Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)
The ELCAN SpecterOS is a fantastic Canadian combat optic, with clear glass and a good reticle design. It has usable illumination for both daylight and low light conditions, and it draws a lot of attention. But it is hampered by a sub-par mounting system integral to the optic. The importer is not very responsive, and I question what kind of service will happen if something breaks. In a market space where Trijicon and Browe have LED powered optics that also have fantastic glass, bright illumination, and a variety of quality mounts, I’m not sure I would recommend the SpecterOS over other options anymore.
On to the Review
Not a lot of people know the ELCAN SpecterOS 4x. You’ve probably heard of its heavier and more expensive sibling, the SpecterDR, though.
The DR model’s military designation as SU-230/PVS-C. It’s known for its throw lever, cam, and prism system that allow the shooter switch between 1x and 4x. The SpecterOS is the same optic, but fixed at 4x. It is lighter, with similar illumination, but it is more akin to the ACOG than a 1-4x scope.
I suspect the SpecterOS is not more popular because it is in the same category as Trijicon’s ubiquitous ACOG series. ACOGs have a reputation ruggedness, excellent optical quality, and battery-free illumination through the use of fiber optics and tritium. For most US shooters shopping for a military quality optic in the +/- $1,000 range, there wasn’t much of a reason to look elsewhere. I was hesitant myself, since it’s an unknown, and the only solid review I could find was Ilya’s excellent work at Optics Thoughts.
Complacency with the status quo is understandable, given the quality of the Trijicon options. But shooters have been doing themselves a disservice by not looking into other optics in the same category. Options such as Browe’s BCO and TCO, the Leupold HAMR, and the Zeiss ZO 4x30i all bring a lot to the table.
ELCAN stands for Ernst Leitz (Canada). Up until the 1990s, It represented the industrial arm of Leica. That is the trade name for Leitz Camera, a well-known maker of high quality optical glass for cameras and other instruments. ELCAN is now part of Raytheon, but the optical technology is still tied to its origins.
Armament Technologies imports the optic from Canada to the US. Outside the USA, the SpecterOS 4x serves as the basis for the British Lightweight Day Sight (LDS) that replaced the venerable SUSAT sighting system. It is also in service with the Canadian military as a potential replacement for the legacy Elcan C79.
If you mentioned the name ELCAN among most enthusiasts, the assumption was that you were referring to the SpecterDR model. But that is a different class of optic.
I purchased the optic with my own funds for around $1250. The box included a user manual, anti-reflective device (ARD), and a Duracell DL 1/3N battery. I’m not one to be too picky about packaging, but I will give props to Trijicon for its packaging. There is something to the “unpacking experience,” especially when it comes to more expensive products.
The optic itself is 6″ long, which is quite compact. It is dwarfed by my other optics. Despite its rather diminutive size, it is still a rather weighty 17.4 oz including the integral mount. Some of the extra weight stems from the large optical surfaces. A lot of it comes from the forged aluminum housing, and the nearly full-length integral ARMS base.
A weight 17.4 oz puts it slightly heavier than a TA-31 with mount, and about the same weight as a TA-11 with mount.
The front objective is 32mm, and the rear ocular is a generous 34mm. A 32mm objective with 4x magnification calculates out to a 8mm exit pupil. That should present no issues shooting in low light. The human eye typically dilates up about 6 or 7mm. The optic came with the ARD already threaded into the front of the housing.
There is a provision for a battery cap lanyard, but no lanyard was included. From what I have seen of the user manuals, the lanyard only comes with the SpecterDR and British military versions of the SpecterOS. Regardless, I found it easy to fashion my own out of an inner thread from a short piece of paracord.
Bullet Drop Compensation
I purchased the crosshair reticle model. There is a chevron reticle available, like the standard AGOC RCO. The center crosshair is between 3 and 4 MOA. I don’t have an exact measurement. My attempts at contacting Armament Technologies to get the specs were unsuccessful.
The manual states to zero the center of the crosshair at 100 meters. It serves as the point of aim (POA) for up to 200 meters. Below this center crosshair, there are stadia lines for 300, 400, 500, 600, 700, and 800 meters.
The BDC calibration is for a 16″ barrel firing 62gr 5.56. Again, I don’t have the exact MOA drops, so I can’t tell what velocity and ballistic coefficient were part of the math. Calibrating for a 16″ barrel is a good compromise length. You can step up or down one level from the calibrated length and still be “close enough” for BDC use. A 16″ calibration means that the BDC is usable for both 14.5″ and 18″-20″ barrels.
There are two options for ranging. Each horizontal stadia line represents a 19″ span at the stated range. That width represents the average man’s chest width.
On the lower left corner of the reticle is ELCAN’s VSOR vertical ranging system. Each bracket represents 30″ of height, which is the average height of a man’s torso.
The 30″ measurement is also good for other things, like the size of light truck tires, or animal torsos from back to brisket.
This system is user friendly, and does not clutter the sight picture. On my second range trip with the optic, I landed hits out to 700 yards with my 20″ government profiled BCM upper. The BDC tracked very well with ADI 69gr SMK loads.
The wind was more of an issue than drop for that shot.
Illumination is of moderate importance to me. As a practical shooter, I want to use only as much illumination as required to get a good sight picture. In bright daylight, this often means I don’t want any illumination of the reticle at all.
The fiber-optics in my TR24, for example, usually get completely covered for practice in daylight.
The ACOG is well known for its bright fiber optic illumination. However, there are two known downsides to this configuration. In full sun, the reticle tends to “bloom” and make precision aiming difficult. If the shooter is indoors and aiming outside, the reticle tends to “wash out,” not having enough illumination to draw the eye. The former is usually overcome by using tape, bicycle tubing, or other means to limit the light hitting the fiber optic. The latter cannot be fixed.
In low light, tritium lamps provide an ACOG’s illumination. These lamps are filled with tritium gas, which has a radioactive half-life of about 8-10 years. After a certain period, probably less than 8 years, they need replacement. I have never seen a published cost of this job, but the average has been around $300. Batteries sound like a more economical option for the long term.
When I bought the ELCAN in 2015, it seemed to be the best option for me given my requirements. Now that the price of the Trjicon TA02 is cheaper, and the TA-110 is on the market, I’m not sure I can say that illumination is a key decision point anymore.
ELCAN Illumination Settings
The illumination switch and battery cap are on the left side of the housing. The cap threads itself into the switch, and is not easy to unscrew by accident.
There are ten total illumination settings: five daylight and five low-light. The “OFF” position is in the middle of the range. There is only one OFF position as opposed to an off between each number. With only five settings either way and a large and easy to turn knob, I don’t think it would any extra benefit to have the extra positions.
Rotating the switch forward activates the daytime illumination. This lights the center crosshair only.
The first two settings are for night vision, but I can still see them in the evening. The brightest setting is daylight capable, but I wouldn’t call it super bright. It works well in 90% of situations, and is nearly as bright as a dedicated red dot sight. It may wash out against a bright background like a sand dune illuminated by full sun, but that is difficult for any electronic optic. In those circumstances, the etched reticle is still quite visible as a heavy black crosshair. That is more than I can say for my EOTech at full power when looking at the same background.
In full sun, the ACOG’s fiber optics appear brighter. Like, retina searing bright. The LED power of the SpecterOS walks all over the ACOG when used indoors for CQB applications. I ran the ELCAN through a multi day tactical course on both a flat range and jungle walk range in the West Virginia mountains. I left it on the highest setting for the course, and never lost the reticle. In fact, I thought it was just the right amount of brightness to draw the eye but not overwhelm it. The LED ACOG is definitely brighter at high settings, but I’m not sure how much more useful that would be.
Rotating the illumination knob to the rear of the optic activates the low-light settings. These light up the entire reticle, rather than the middle only.
I have a bit of astigmatism in my shooting eye that causes illuminated reticles to blur a bit in the dark. This applies to all illumination, not just the ELCAN. It’s not enough to make illumination unusable, but I did have difficulty reading the BDC stadia line numbers. With correctional lenses on, everything is very crisp and readable. This may or may not affect you, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The manual states that the battery is good for between 600 and 3000 hours, depending on the setting used. I’ve found that statement to be about right. Between April 2015 and August of 2018, I used two batteries. I usually shoot without illumination, though.
Even if the battery does cut out unexpectedly, I still have a nice solid black reticle to use.
The optical quality of the glass is the biggest selling point of the ELCAN.
Nearly every review I read before buying it talked about the optic “stomping” on the ACOG or other competing designs in the price bracket. I am not disappointed with it.
The optical quality is outstanding. On my second range trip, where I wanted to stretch out the legs and see what the BDC could do, I was able to spot my own hits and corrections at 700 yards. I could see every little kicked up dust cloud and walk myself in at that range. With a 4x optic, I found that to be pretty impressive.
Resolution, color transmission, and brightness are excellent. It handily beats my Trijicon TR-24 and Vortex scopes. Compared to my TA-110 ACOG, it is a very close call. I find the ACOG to be a bit brighter, but that could come from the larger objective on the TA-110.
In all, the ELCAN’s glass is outstanding.
A contributing factor to that optical clarity is actually the mount and external adjustments. Optics will perform at their best when the optical elements are mechanically aligned and centered inside the housing. Every bit of adjustment of an optic away from mechanical center degrades the performance of the glass a bit. The farther from mechanical zero, the worse the performance gets. That is something to keep in mind before throwing 20 or 40 MOA mounts on everything even when not needed.
The ELCAN glass and housing are one fixed piece locked into mechanical center. Most modern optics use internal adjustments controlled by external turrets. The SpecterOS uses external adjustments that actually move the entire housing relative to the base. This guarantees the optical elements are always aligned and producing the best image possible. Having all the internals fixed in place also makes the optic extremely tough.
ELCAN rates the optic to withstand up to 450 Gs of acceleration, and claims water resistant for up to 2 hours at 66 feet.
Windage and Elevation
The windage adjustment is at the front of the mount. You can make adjustments with flat head screw driver, or a coin. This looks and feels a lot like an EOTech system. Each click is ½ MOA.
Elevation is on a wheel at the rear of the mount, under the ocular. To adjust the elevation, the shooter needs to lift a mechanical “catch” that locks the wheel in place. Once lifted, the wheel rotates in a similar manner to a M-16 rear sight drum. Again, each click represents ½ MOA.
There is enough tension on the wheel itself that I do not foresee the wheel coming off of zero under normal use. The locking latch on the wheel adds to that strength. I’ve never had it come loose, and I’ve not been gentle.
These adjustments are not marked in any way, so using them on as you would a tactical precision rifle scope is not ideal. This is not that kind of optic anyway. If you needed to do it in a pinch, though, I suppose it is possible to do the math and count the clicks of the wheel.
I do not have the equipment to do a proper box test on the adjustments, but my experience so far
I’ve read some criticism about the durability of the external adjustment system. For the most part, this criticism seems speculative in nature, or relates to the much older C-79 optic. The two most common complaints involve having to adjust cheek weld for elevation changes, and the knobs turning on their own or by getting bumped.
To the former, I have to ask if that person adjusts their cheek weld when they adjust their iron sights. They don’t. We’re talking fractions of minute of angles here. The reality is that moving the POI a few MOA is a minuscule amount of movement to the optic, and practically imperceptible to the shooter.
To the latter concern, I see the ELCAN’s adjustments being less susceptible to bumping than external target turrets. Rotating iron sight elevation drums, as on the M16, even seems more likely. If it’s that big of a concern, then a paint pen is always a useful tool for index marking.
Eye Relief and Position
The SpecterOS manual states a 70mm of eye relief or roughly 2.75 inches. Compared to a TA-31 ACOG, with 1.5 inches, this was a selling point for me. Measuring it myself, I found the stated eye relief to be about right from the lens to the best focal point.
I have seen a few a few people complain about the eye relief of the Specter series. I thought that was odd given its numbers compared to other optics in the same category.
In use, though, I’ve found that I still have to get my face pretty far up the stock and shoot nose to charging handle (NTCH) if I want to keep the backup sight. It turns out that this is not the glass’s fault. it has the advertised longer eye relief.
Rather, it is the fault of the mount. The external adjustments mean that the mount runs almost the full length of the optic. There isn’t a lot of room behind it. With similar optics, such as the ACOG, the mount fits under the objective end of the scope. That leaves a significant amount of space under the ocular to fold a backup sight. There is much less space on the ELCAN, meaning you have to push the optic farther forward on the top rail in to accommodate a backup sight. This eats into the available eye relief.
If you don’t mind forgoing a rear backup sight altogether, then you can mount the optic as far back as you desire. That path leaves a lot of room to play with head position. Many folks will have no issue with that latter option, as the optic is tough enough to put up with abuse. The likelihood of actually needing to use a backup sight is very slim.
Field of View
The ELCAN SpecterOS 4x has a 6 degree field of view, which amounts to a respectable 34.2 feet at 100 yards. That is more than most any other comparable optic in this category, except for the TA31 and the Zeiss ZO 4x30i.
When playing with eye relief, I’ve found that I can still move about a quarter inch behind the sweet spot and not really lose much field of view. The optic seems lenient as far as eye relief and any distracting shadowing. There were times where I brought it up to my eye and didn’t even realize I wasn’t looking at the full field of view until I happened to scoot my face closer to the ocular and saw the reticle’s label etched across the very top
The optic’s ARMS mount is integral. This was my biggest concern before purchasing the optic.
ARMS has a less than stellar reputation among AR enthusiasts. That reputation bothered me a lot during my research. But I did my homework. I wanted to know if this reputation was actually earned or not. If it was the result of a few haterade-drinking folks on the internet, it didn’t seem fair to judge the scope. It only takes a few of these types to get others parroting what they heard “from guy who knows what he’s talking about.”
I discovered that the former owner of ARMS (who passed away in 2018) had a reputation for filing lawsuits against other manufacturers. One such recipient was Mark Larue, of Larue Tactical, whose own loyal followers also have a reputation for their fanaticism. It stands to reason that some of these followers are responsible for the loudmouthed denigration of ARMS. With that in mind, I decided to go ahead and take the risk.
Did it pay off? Well, that’s a mixed bag. The mount itself certainly feels solid. But, the attachment system is simplistic and dated when compared to newer designs like American Defense Manufacturing, Bobro Engineering, or GDI. That said, it still works…if your rail is in spec.
Mounting it Up
On three of my four uppers (two M4-marked BCMs, and a Tactical Machining TM-10), it locked up fine. The fourth, a well-worn Spikes Tactical, did not. The optic freely slid back and forth within the picatinny slot. This disappointed me, as that particular upper has a 16″ Centurion LW-CHF barrel with low profile sights. It was the intended host of the scope. In the past, when the problem of loose mounts came up to ARMS, they stated that their mounts were designed for mil-spec rails, and that users should buy quality in-spec equipment rather than complain.
Obviously, this isn’t a great marketing tactic in a world with adjusting mounts.
The mount latches onto the underside of the picatinny rail’s “lip.” If this lip is too thin, the mount will have trouble clamping down on it. An improvised solution I’ve seen is to shim it with some aluminum foil. It seems to be a workable solution; but for an optic in this price range, we shouldn’t have to resort to improvised fixes like that.
The levers do not lock. Metal holes are adjacent to the levers so you can secure them with zip ties. Compared to other mounting options, this just seems clumsy.
ARMS recognized the fault with their lever design, and released the MK II levers, which are adjustable for tension via a locking wheel. I purchased a set for about $40, in hopes that it would improve the fit.
Installing the levers would be no more than a 10 minute job with proper documentation and pictures. But the lack of pictures in the instructions meant that it ended up taking me about 40 minutes.
Once installed and adjusted, the new MK II levers provided a significant improvement in tension on the three uppers that it already fit. Yet the problem on the Spikes receiver persisted.
Looking at the shape and design of the ELCAN’s base, it would appear to be a simple enough task for another scope base manufacturer (Larue, ADM, Bobro, GDI, etc) to come up with an aftermarket design. All it would take to swap them out is a “key” to remove the attachment screws from the elevation and windage adjustments.
The reasons that I think this hasn’t already happened is the cost of doing so, due to increased material usage and relatively low sales volume, or that ARMS is jealously guarding the rights to be the sole-source for the base and does not want competition.
Regardless, the mount is doing its job for me, just as it is for all the professional users in the world using the same optic in either SpecterDR or British LDS form. But after three years of use, and moving from rifle to rifle, I noticed that the rear lever was not clamping as well, even on the in-spec receivers. Adjusting the wheels helps a bit, but I am overall disappointed with the mount.
The Final Word
I really like this optic. But I’m not crazy about the mount.
When I first bought the ELCAN, it took me a few range trips to appreciate it. In my mind, I had it built up to be absolutely better in nearly every way when compared to the ACOGs I was comparing it to during research. At first, I was almost panicking that I had spent so much on an optic that I might not end up liking. Thankfully, that phase passed. Here’s how I have things broken down…
The definite PRO column:
- Outstanding optical clarity
- Great field of view
- Nice compact size
- Common battery with good life
- Good (but not outstanding) illumination
- Easy to use BDC and ranging system
- Built tough enough for armed conflict
The “Meh” Column:
- The eye relief is good on paper, but in practice it may feel shorter than it actually is if you plan to mount a back up sight behind it
- The illumination is not quite as bright as fiber optic competitors when outdoors in bright sunlight; but it does work brilliantly indoors or in less intense sunlight, performing far better in CQB applications than the fiber optic competitor, and is every bit as bright as a RDS
- At 17.4 oz of weight all together with mount, it’s honestly kind of a middleweight. It’s more than a TA31 or compact ACOG like the TA33, about the same as a full sized TA11 with mount, but less than quality variables.
The Definite Cons
- The ARMS mount. It started off merely OK, and has slowly gotten more annoying compared to the other mounts I have. ELCAN really needs to make this easier for the aftermarket
The Bottom Line: Who Should Buy This Optic?
The ELCAN SpecterOS 4x is an outstanding optic in nearly every respect.
If you are looking for a combat-tough fixed-magnification optic with outstanding glass, it is a contender. It also features battery-powered illumination for economics and versatility
If you are concerned that your upper receiver rail is not machined to military spec, you might want to check one out first. It would suck to spend this much on an optic and have it not fit.
If you need retina-searing brightness during daylight, then you should probably pass. The illumination is bright enough to draw the eye, but it’s not “OMG LOOK AT ME” bright.
If you absolutely need to keep a folding backup sight behind your optic, and you cannot shoot NTCH, then look elsewhere.
Lastly, if you’re comparing the ELCAN vs a battery powered ACOG, then I would probably go with the ACOG.