Friday, January 23, 2015

Samson Manufacturing 3.5x Magnifier and RAM mount review

The 3.5x magnifier in its case
Magnifiers for red dot sights are like smart phones - you really don't know what you are missing until you get one.  I'm a big fan of magnifiers coupled with red dot optics for a couple of reasons: they help you put shots on target more accurately at medium distances and they provide an increased level of threat identification that is critical when making decisions in a defensive situations.  For law enforcement, military members, or even armed citizens at distances from 75 yds to 300 yds, a 3x or higher magnification behind your red dot could easily be the difference between properly engaging a threat or a case of tragic mistaken identity.

Given that belief, you can imagine my excitement when the very first Samson product I got to test as part of Operation X was their 3.5x magnifier with Rotary Actuated Mount (RAM) base and quick flip mount.  A few key features of the magnifier:
  • 35mm objective lens, bigger than the Aimpoint or EOTech magnifiers.
  • 3.5x magnification, higher than the Aimpoint or EOTech magnifiers.
  • Adjustable for windage and elevation.
  • RAM mount can be adjusted to ensure the tightest fit to your particular rail system, which is great if you have a slightly out of spec rail or you mount it on a Weaver rail.
  • RAM mount features a large, easy to use paddle with catch allowing you to take it on and off your rail easily one-handed.
  • Adjustable diopter to customize the focus to your particular needs.
  • Flip to side feature to easily go from medium range engagement (100-300 yds) to CQB.

A great view of the RAM lever, cutout, and flip to side lever
The first thing I noticed when I received the magnifier was how well it was packaged.  It came in a plastic hard case with a fitted foam interior.  My Aimpoint PRO didn't even come packed that nicely.  Once I got it out and inventoried the parts, I set it up, first without the 7mm spacer, then with.  I tried both configurations, and while they both proved adequate, I preferred the look and feel of the mount + spacer.   I utilized the included screws and blue threadlocker to set it up, then mounted it on my rifle.  The RAM mount locked up nice and tight, and needed no adjustment, even though I personally feel that my top rail is a bit large compared to mil-spec.  The RAM base has two key parts, a steel lever with wide paddle and retention clip (both easily operated with one hand), and an adjustment dial on the opposite side.  The adjustment dial is the piece that allows you to set your base width for your specific rail, and it's very simple.  Just press in a detent and turn the wheel in or out depending on your need. 

Since this is a quick-flip mount, I spent some time toying with the mechanism as well.  Out of the box, it had a great feel - very fast in transition, but tight enough that there was no perceptible wobble when it was flipped out of the way.  The rubber coating on the magnifier has a cut out to allow easier access to the flip to side
Another good view of the RAM, flip lever, lever cutout, spacer, and attachment screws
paddle when mounted in the low position for a right handed individual.  The spring was powerful enough to propel the magnifier out of the way quickly, but not too strong to prevent a quick flip back when needed.

I spent several hours at the range testing out the magnifier on my Faxon Firearms ARAK.  I run an Aimpoint PRO in a Larue mount set up for a lower 1/3 co-witness.  I prefer the 1/3 co-witness because I like having my sights easily accessible, but not interfering with my red dot.  The downside is that mounts from different manufacturers don't always match up perfectly, even when they both claim to be lower 1/3.  Just as an example, a Larue mount for the PRO coupled with a ADM mount for a magnifier may or may not line up exactly right.  This is where the 35mm objective lens shines for me.  As I mentioned earlier, that extra 5mm allowed the magnifier to line up and function even without using the included 7mm spacer, and if it will function with that big of a height difference (absolute versus lower 1/3), it should have no issues dealing with the slight differences between supposedly identical sight heights or between different models of sights. It also allows more light to enter the magnifier and helps eliminate edge distortion.  Also as mentioned, I did end up using the 7mm spacer.  I didn't need it, but it did help the optic and magnifier line up better and it was more aesthetically pleasing.
Shooting my ARAK with the magnifier and my PRO
The windage and elevation adjustment came in handy, as my red dot was sitting to the far right in the magnifier when I originally mounted it.  A few quick turns took care of that.  The magnifier adjustments function just like the Aimpoint adjustments - if the red dot is too far right, turn the windage knob the opposite direction of the arrow marked "R" and you will find your dot centered in short order.  I noticed no shift in the dot as I shot.  The magnifier was crisp and clear, and I really feel that it improved my grouping by allowing me a more precise point of aim.  I shot at both 50 and 100 yards and the target stayed sharp even without messing around with the adjustable diopter.

I have a few critiques, but absolutely nothing that I would consider a deal-breaker.  There are no instructions included with the mount, so you're on your own to figure out how to put it together, and I'm not a huge fan of the included standard screws.  I would like to see them switch to hex screws, but that's a personal preference.  I didn't experience any issues with the included screws when mounting.  The rubber cutout for the flip to side lever only works when it's mounted for a righty (the paddle gets a little snug up to the magnifier if mounted the other way), but you could easily trim it back.  I would also love to see the windage and elevation either adjustable with turrets, or some sort of cover to keep water/dirt/etc out of the adjustment screws.  Once again, none of these are deal-breakers, just enhancements that I think would really make the product shine even more.
The windage screw

As I continue to test the magnifier and mount, my focus will be on two main things that only time will tell: will the flip to side mount loosen up and wobble as it is used, and will the magnifier continue to hold its "zero" through recoil and constant flipping?  My guess is perhaps a little, and yes, it will hold, but only time will tell. I do have to say, this product is off to a great start.

Overall, I think this is a great buy.  While the price is still $389 on Samson's website, that is over $100 cheaper than the EOTech magnifier with mount, and over $200 cheaper than the Aimpoint with no mount, and I think the Samson has more features and is simply more shooter friendly.  If you are looking for a quality, shooter-friendly magnifier to help you whether in defensive or target shooting scenarios, take a hard look at Samson.  You can find the 3.5x magnifier on their website.

 X Echo 1 is a 10 year veteran of the US Coast Guard, where he has served at various units including the International Training Division and Maritime Security Response Team.  He has held qualifications including Deployable Team Leader/Instructor, Direct Action Section Team Leader, and Precision Marksman – Observer.  He has deployed/instructed on five continents and served in quick reaction force roles for multiple National Special Security Events in the US.