The 2018 Nissan Rogue 4,000 mile road test

In August 2018 I had a chance to drive a 2018 Nissan Rogue for three weeks. I have put a little over 4,000 miles on the car and had used it in a variety of conditions. Here are some brief observations.

Driver’s area ergonomics.

What I personally prefer in a car is that I don’t notice anything, that everything is there when I need it and I don’t have to consciously focus on finding anything I need, or making it work. The cockpit should just disappear and let me focus on driving.

A steering wheel is a familiar element of most modern cars. What genius felt that they need to improve it by making its bottom section flat? Resting a hand at the 6 o’clock position on a long highway haul is uncomfortable, and letting the steering wheel free-spin coming out of a turn creates the feeling of a flat tire running on the road, with the flat portion slapping in and out of your hand.

The turn signal switch lever is just a little too short, and I have long fingers. It is also shaped like a half-eaten lollipop, so your finger just slides off its tip. A person with shorter fingers would have to re-position their hand on the steering wheel in order to activate the turn signal.

The radio, oh the radio! Why couldn’t I, the driver, remain in control of what you do?! I did connect my iPhone to it, and any time I would sit in the car and start it, it would turn On the stereo and start playing my playlist. It doesn’t matter if I turned it off last time. If I wanted to charge my phone and would plug it in, it would wait just long enough for me to relax, and then turn itself On, declare that it found an iPod and start playing! So I turn the audio Off. All right, I think I have won! Well, that is, until I try to use Google Maps, when there will now be no spoken directions, because the audio is Off. So you turn On the audio, fiddle with the system to hit the Pause button and stop the music, and then the spoken directions would work. In the end this system was similar to others with BT iPhone connection, but somehow more annoying and less intuitive than those.

The dashboard has the “race car” cylindrical decorative inserts around all the round dials. I am above average height, and the tubular bezels with bright chrome plating blocked parts of all dials, so that I couldn’t see the tick marks, only the digits. The chrome plastic edges of the tubes are flat, so when the sun is just at the right angle behind you, you get very bright sun stars right in the middle of the instrument cluster. Yikes! More shiny flat surfaces are present in the middle part of the dash where the stereo is. That also causes sun glint in front of the driver when the sun is behind you. Bad design! After driving the Rogue I looked at my own Lexus RX300 that I never noticed this in, and sure enough – all the surfaces are slightly curved, reducing the sun spots to a single tiny bright dot on polished surfaces. Lexus got it right.

General usage features.

The baggage compartment has these two clever dividers that allow some six different configurations. I wanted the simplest, large volume single area. Well, the dividers then stow in the bottom of the compartment and take away two inches of depth, if not more. Clever as the design is, I can’t think of people changing those dividers daily into a variety of configurations, most of us simply put stuff in the trunk – and for these people, the trunk is so much smaller than it could have been, if the design was simpler.

The baggage compartment door is electric. It made me feel important when I pressed a button and it gently and slowly would start opening. It also made me feel like, oh come on, open already! I want to get to my stuff today! To close the door you have to use the power option too: just quickly pulling the door down is met with stiff resistance so no, you can’t just slam it shut and move on with your life. It will take its sweet time and close at the rate that it wants to close at. Gas tank door is also electric. You open it by pushing a button, and not just any push of the button will open the door. Some pushes, like those at the upper edge of the button would move the button, but would not open the door. So I learned that the best bet is to push it while carefully listening for the click of the door, if you don’t want to get out, walk around the car and find the tank door still closed.

Driving impressions.

The car has a 4-cylinder engine that is adequate to move the vehicle but that’s about it. The relatively low power engine, combined with the continuously variable transmission, creates the feeling of sluggishness. Any attempt to accelerate, for passing for example, results in the engine revving up, RPM going to 4-5,000 and the car doing… little, if not nothing at all. Eventually it speeds up, but it will not aggressively press you into the back of the seat in the process. If this engine has any bottom end torque, you will never know it because it never operates in low RPM range and the CVT takes any character away from the engine.

As I mentioned, my own car is an old Lexus RX300, and driving the Rogue made me appreciate it all the more. The Rogue is more noisy, road noise being prevalent and the engine scream when passing other cars adding up to the impression. However, there have been no plasticky squeaks or creaks, which is nice.

On the highway, the Rogue’s steering was responsive and obedient. Passing requires planning, throttle response is mediocre. Road noise is substantial but better than older cars for sure. On gravel roads the Rogue was okay, but it floated on the washboard more than I would have liked. Its suspension is fairly soft but it didn’t bottom out when driven gently on moderately rocky roads of eastern Oregon.

Overall impression – the car is Ok if you like Nissan Rogues, or if this is the first car you ever drive. I would not buy one for myself. There are too many annoying design features that just don’t have to be there like that.

Review of Nikon 200mm f/4 D ED-IF AF Micro Nikkor Lens

Excellent lens, as expected

 
5out of 5

Pros: Easily Interchangeable, Strong Construction, Consistent Output, Rugged, Nice Bokeh, Durable
Cons: Slow Focus
Best Uses: Macro Photography, Landscape/Scenery, Wildlife Photos

Anyone looking at the reviews for this lens is most likely trying to verify what they already know: that it is a fantastic lens. My 2 cents confirm that. The lens is optically superb, and it has not been challenged by a 24 Mp DX sensor. I used it on 16 and 24 Mp DX sensor cameras, and the sharpness is flawless when images are in focus, which is a separate challenge and has nothing to do with the lens performance. The long focal length requires steady holding, so a solid tripod is a very good idea. Auto focusing, particularly if you switch from close to far away, is very slow and can be frustrating to people used to the AF-S optics with much more limited focus range. But this is not a quality one should expect from this special purpose lens with a tremendous focus distance range.
As with any close up photography, motion of the subject will cause blurring as much as does the motion of the camera and the lens. Taking close-up shots of insects on flowers even in light breeze is very hard, and this lens will not make the subject steady. However, I found that by focusing manually to the close ball park, then switching to AF-C 3D tracking helps with this problem to a large degree. Once in a while the camera will hunt away from the manually focused spot and I have to manually recover the focus but most of the time it will issue fine quick adjustments and the focus will stay on target, especially if the motion is not too drastic. I find AF useful in this case. Same applies for pictures taken at long distances, where AF can fairly quickly be re-acquired when subjects are relatively in focus. It is only when the subject is totally out of focus will it take the camera / lens combination a very long time to try and find focus.
I find that the bokeh for close-ups is less than creamy but Ok if the clutter is close behind the subject, and improves significantly for the clutter further away from the subject in focus.
Color rendition is impeccable for the focal plane. Traces of axial CA may be seen on high contrast edges close to the focal plane but disappear quickly into the bokeh if a shallow(er) DOF is maintained in close-up shots. I have not tried the most challenging duck-on-the-water-with-sun-glare shot to see if the longitudinal CA would creep into that kind of an unlikely scenario for the use of this lens.
Hand holding this lens is challenging, even for subjects far away: one has to realize that even if subjects far away appear steady, that did not make your handholding steadier and magically removed the motion that you so clearly saw when taking close-ups. You simply can’t see it quite as well. Using steady support is essential with this lens regardless of the distance to the subject.
The lens is fairly long and thin but hefty due to its extremely high build quality, and handles nicely on a D7000 or similar class body. It fits well onto a D5300 but can make it a bit front heavy. This is largely irrelevant as I would recommend limiting hand held use anyway.

(legalese)

Review of Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR II Lens

Originally submitted at Adorama

Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S DX VR II

Very good universal lens

Pros: Easily Interchangeable, Consistent Output, Fast / accurate auto-focus
Best Uses: Weddings/Events, Landscape/Scenery, Wildlife Photos

This lens is controversial, and has either glowing or scalding reviews. People reading the reviews, just like I was, should think about their use for the lens, and it will hopefully make it easier to decide to buy it or not. To sum up my opinion, it is a very handy lens that we use for a lot of general shots, and take off only when we are spending some time working on a particular subject that can benefit from another lens.
I used a borrowed 18-200 for a while on occasion, and loved how easy it was to use, and particularly the character of the images I got from it. I liked it enough to buy it to supplement the “Nikkor magnificent trio” of 2.8 pro zooms and some more specialized optics that I already have.
The lens definitely has distortion in most of the zoom settings. So what? Most software, and many bodies, now correct for it automatically. The lens is smaller and lighter than the newer superzooms, and is very handy on a small body.
IMO, the lens delivers pleasant and clear images, with great color, and the chromatic aberration is well controlled, even on a D40. The zoom range makes it easy to frame for a lazy photographer, but even more challenging subjects, like a bee hovering over a flower, can be caught if you are paying attention. The slow aperture, coincidentally, plays in your favor here, as you get good depth of field for casual shots, something that a fast lens can get you with sometimes if you are careless. Clearly you will have limitations in poor light, but if the body you use is anywhere near modern, the ISO increase will offset this in the majority of cases.
The lens extends a lot when zooming but you have to live with that. My original borrowed sample was also drooping a little when extended, which I found disconcerting at first; however, after pixel-peeping at the images taken in the “drooped” mode, I found absolutely no issues and that made me feel even better: if it works great as an old and loose sample, it means to me that the optical design is robust enough to work well in general.
It will not be a very robust lens. If you drop it extended, lens down, with a D3 body attached, it will not work after that I am sure. But I wouldn’t hold it against a moderately priced plastic lens. It will absorb the impact and protect your camera though.
Overall, I recommend it. It is very handy, large enough for quality images and small enough to be practical, and picture quality is excellent.

(legalese)

ZX-12R Brakes

The factory brakes on the A and early B model ZX-12R (2000-2002) are equipped with six piston Tokico calipers. Many people report that these calipers, while providing ample stopping power when working well, are finicky and prone to piston sticking, and are difficult to bleed well. On my ZX-12R the brakes worked well enough but required a lot of travel of the brake lever, to within 1/2″ of the handlebar, to achieve effective braking from a speed in excess of 70 mph. When the time has come to replace the pads I have decided to replace the calipers with a setup that is easier to maintain. The process for this was as follows:

  1. Remove the brake lines at the calipers, allow the fluid to drain into a container. Use rags under and near the calipers to catch any spilling brake fluid.
  2. Remove the calipers from the forks.
  3. Disassemble the calipers to inspect the cylinders, seals and pistons
  4. Clean all components

Re-assemble the calipers. I saved mine for now in case I prefer the OEM calipers, but if the replacement ones work well, the Tokicos may end up for sale. They turned out to be in perfect shape, no rust, deposits or damage of any sort. All seals were pliable and smooth, and were re-used.

The replacement calipers that people use come in a variety of options. Many people prefer to use a radial setup. The difference between the older axial setup and the newer radial setup is the positioning of the calipers with respect to the axis of the fork: on the axial setup, the mounting bolts are perpendicular to the plane of the fork and the braking force applies both twisting and bending forces to the fork leg. In a radial setup, the mounting bolts lie in the same plane as the fork leg, and the braking force applies a predominantly bending component to the fork.

I am not sure I see a practical difference for normal riding, plus retrofitting an axial forks with radial brackets does not really change the geometry of the mounts, therefore I decided to use a set of axial calipers. Readily available 4-piston Nissin calipers from 1987-91 GSX-R 1100 and 750, as well as from a 1200 Bandit have the same mounting pattern and are designed for the same 320 mm rotor, so I went with these.

The Nissins were obtained from E-bay, disassembled, thoroughly cleaned and re-assembled. They did not require seal replacement and now, two years later, did not show any sign of a leak. The Nissin calipers have piston area approximately the same as the factory Tokico calipers and therefore braking force applied to the disks has to be very close to that designed by the Kawasaki engineers. This is in contrast with some other setups people install, including the Yamaha R1 radial calipers: even though riders using those report no issues, the piston area and the resulting clamping force of those is lower than that of the 6-piston Tokico, and my reasoning was, this may be Ok for a lighter R1 but the ZX-12R is a heavier motorcycle and may need the clamping force of a larger piston area.

In the end the modification proved to be effective and simple, and my ZX-12R still has the 4-piston Nissin calipers in the front.

Burris Eliminator rifle scope review

Welcome to the Eliminator

Some 10 years ago when the laser range finders became widely available I had thought that integrating one with a riflescope and placing the calculated bullet impact point on the vertical crosshair of the reticle would be a brilliant idea. The technology caught up with the dream only recently, and Burris introduced the Eliminator. I got my hands on one only this year, partly due to the lack of need, partly due to its fairly high cost. This year I decided that I want a shorted and handier rifle than a 24″-barreled Weatherby Vanguard in .300 Weatherby Magnum for hunting elk in the aspens and dark timber, so a Ruger Hawkeye in .338 RCM with a 20″ barrel joined my hunting arsenal. The Weatherby now was destined to become a long range, open country rifle, so the Eliminator was a logical choice.

The scope is very heavy by any standard at over 1.5 lbs, so if you have a 5.5 lb rifle that you value for its light weight as a mountain gun, you may not want to put the Eliminator on it. The mount is an integral one, suitable for installation on a Picatinny or Weaver rail only. To put the Eliminator on my Vanguard so I had to remove the Talley single piece rings that held my previous scope and installed a single-piece EGW rail that fit perfectly. One has to pay attention to the length of the screws that hold the rail on the receiver as they have different length for front and back; if you install the longer screw in the rear hole by mistake it will interfere with the bolt and the shorter screw will not engage the threads properly if placed in the forward hole. This is not rocket science, just pay attention to what you are doing. I put blue Locktite on the threads and GunSeal under the rail. I know; they tell you to wipe the receiver dry but when I did that I would get slight rust under the bases, so I use GunSeal from now on.

The mount on the Eliminator aligns properly with the rear edge of the Picatinny rail slot only on the rear scope mount, and the forward slot, while it does allow the cross bolt to pass, does not appear to bottom out on the cross bolt when the scope is slid all the way forward. Therefore, only one of the cross bolts will provide shear resistance, the other only clamps the rail. This does not appear to have any ill effects on the mounting strength, and tightening the nuts on cross bolts to the recommended 65 in/lbs of torque resulted in a rock solid mount, later tested by an unfortunate drop onto the scope in the field with no effect on the point of impact.

Since the scope has a machined mount there is no need to work to ensure its proper alignment above the rifle bore. It will be as accurate as the machining of the mounting holes on the rifle’s receiver, which in my case proved to be accurate enough for all practical purposes.

I like to cover the lenses on my scopes to protect them from snow, twigs and dust. For the Eliminator I picked up a set of Butler Creek caps. The proper Butler Creek cover size for the objective of the Eliminator is 46, and 10 for the ocular. The ocular of this scope is tapered and the larger cover will fit too but it will bottom out on it and will not be tight.  You may see the next size up as the recommended; I tried this and they were loose enough to slide off effortlessly. I prefer a tight fit and the 10 and 46 will provide exactly that. This time around I was very disappointed in the caps quality. I have Butler Creek caps on all of my scopes but they all date back 5 years or more and they all fit tightly and close snugly, without a hitch. Since then the quality has gone down a lot. The objective cover did not want to stay closed at all, and, out of time and frustrated, I simply covered the cap edges with foil and ironed them with a hot iron, pressing them inwards. This deformed the cap enough to keep it in place when closed but of course one can not expect a reliable hermetic seal that way. I don’t think I will be buying more Butler Creek covers if I can help it at all.

After installing the scope I naturally had to take the rifle to the range and get to know the new hunting tool. I shoot primarily handloads in the Weatherby and prefer heavy bullets for the caliber, so as one would expect the recoil is noticeable. Previously the rifle was fitted with a light 2×7 Weaver scope, and shooting it with the Eliminator was a pleasant surprise: the recoil was noticeably reduced by the added weight of the scope.

The one concern that people interested in the Eliminator may have is whether or not the reticle is too thick and obstructs too much of the target. In my opinion it is not. The vertical pin of the reticle is just thin enough to pose no problems, and it is also translucent on the edges and darker along the centerline to where it is very comfortable to the eye. The orange aiming dots, when lit, are bright enough to be visible against the snow although they will not exactly jump out at you like a turkey head ring in a shotgun scope. Not that I would want that anyway in a rifle scope. I think the engineers at Burris hit the nail on the head with the size and brightness of the aiming dots: they are visible enough in bright daylight, yet not overwhelming at dusk.

The optics of the Eliminator are not as bright as the 42 mm Swarovision binoculars. They are on the same level as Leupold’s VXII or Burris Fullfield, which is adequate for most people who are not obsessed with counting twigs on a bush 500 yards away in the last 15 seconds of legal shooting time. To me, bright optics are needed in the binoculars, which are used for hours during the day. The scope, on the other hand, I use for all of a minute during a big game hunt, and the quality of the Burris optics is totally adequate for this. I was also very pleased with the flatness of the field of view, which was nearly free of roll-off distortion and parallax in the Eliminator, unlike the Fullfield E-1 that I happen to own as well. I am sure there will be people screaming that nothing short of Swarovski will ever do or else their $20,000 guided hunt for the trophy of a lifetime might be in jeopardy. They can do whatever they want. If it is too dark to see the animal I will come back tomorrow morning, if for no other reason then at least not to have to deal with the kill in the dark.

Operating the Eliminator is as easy as anyone thinks from looking through the manual. There is one membrane button to activate the scope, and a second press on it or on the remote control button causes the scope to range and put up the aiming dot. This process is instantaneous for all practical purposes, and I found that is is easy to range even on small targets, such as a “Posted” sign from 450 yards because you are ranging using the steady rifle hold, not using a weightless hand held device where all motions of your wrist immediately translate into wild swings of the projected laser beam.

I had two loads for the .300 Wby: a Federal Premium 200 gr Trophy Bonded Bear Claw and a 200 gr Barnes TSX flat base over 79.5 grains of Reloader-22. Both loads shoot very much to the same point of impact, and I chose the 1-36 table for the cartridges, considering that the shooting was being done at 6,000+ ft elevation.

At the range the Eliminator showed very accurate adjustments, pretty much to the claimed 1/4 MOA and was very easy to bore sight and zero just by laying the rifle on the sandbags and looking through the bore at a 100 yard target. Once on the paper it tracked accurately enough to where 4 rounds were sufficient to get the rifle to shoot where I wanted.

Now, a word of warning: where I wanted and where I should have are different things. Being used to sighting in regular scopes I dialed the point of impact at 1.5″ above the bulls eye, and then was surprised to see that the rifle shot high at 200 yards. I think this would be a very typical user error, since the Eliminator should be dialed in to shoot exactly at bulls eye at 100 yards, if this is how you are sighting the rifle in. It took me a minute to figure out what did I do wrong, and the only correction needed at that point was to change the ballistic table in the scope from 1-36 to 2-36, indicating the 200 yard zero.

I will explain this detail just a little: the two types of zero in Eliminator allow to effectively increase the calculated range for most cartridges to 600 yards with a “2” series table compared to the 500 yards with the “1” series tables. In effect both the 100 and 200 yard points of impact will be at the same point, the crosshairs. If you go to the 200 yard zero (the “2” series table) then the five dots that the scope will calculate drop compensation for in the absence of a good range will be 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 yards. Of course if you range a good target the scope will calculate compensation for ranges out to 800 yards but you really should test out loads and pay attention to the bullet’s ballistic coefficient and Burris drop tables if you are planning to try those ranges. If you are, I am sure you know all of this already.

What you would actually see in my case was, ranging the target at 100 yards (97 to be exact), there was an aiming dot at the crosshairs and in my zeroing in I had a 1.5″ high point of impact. Ranging the 200 yard target (197 yards to be exact), I saw an aiming dot just one or two down from the crosshairs. If used, this put the point of impact at 200 yards about 6″ too high because the scope added the drop compensation to what was already a 3″ high point of aim at 200 yards. Once I switched to a 2-36 table the aiming dot for both 100 and 200 yards appeared exactly at the crosshairs, and the point of impact was 1.5″ high at 100 yards and dead on at 200 yards.

Another word of warning: the Eliminator will only give accurate bullet drop compensation at full magnification, x12. It will put the aiming dot on at any other magnification too, but it will way overcompensate. I imagine that with some creative tinkering one can calibrate the scope so that it will give accurate compensation at lower magnifications but I didn’t bother with this.

This completed the setup, and as an aside I tested a couple of powders I haven’t used before, both working very well in the .300 Wby.

Field Test

The scope went on an elk hunt in the Colorado GMU 12 in late October, 2011. I scouted the area around the Jensen SWA in the summer and it is fairly open, sagebrush country with aspen stands along the creeks and valleys. I brought both the Weatherby and the Ruger with me, and carried the longer gun since visibility was several hundred yards. Most of the time, at least.

The first opportunity at a cow elk, which was my quarry this time around, came about within the first 2 hours of hunting. I just finished practicing ranging with the Eliminator at some shrubs and the three mule deer does 250 yards away, and was walking along when the two cows came out running 40 yards away from me. They stopped for 2-3 seconds and then moved on. I tried to aim and… realized the scope is still on x12 power! It is very difficult, at least for me, to see an elk at 40 yards through a x12 power scope. So the two cows moved on unharmed, and I saw no more elk that day. The scope ranged fine on the snow covered slopes, and the 20F degree temperatures were not an issue.

The next day I went deeper into the mountains, and picked up a trail of five elk heading into a thickly overgrown creek. A ranging scope is absolutely unnecessary in that kind of environment as the longest possible shot there would be 10 yards. However, the steep snow filled valley provided a robustness test for the Eliminator. It was repeatedly covered in snow that fell on me from the trees; it was shaken mercilessly along with the rifle when I fell, and finally soaked with water when all the snow that I couldn’t clean out melted in the sun once I got to the valley bottom. The butchered Butler Creek covers sort of held up, opening occasionally but overall preventing most of the snow from getting into the objective lens. I did have to re-close them several times after snagging the rifle on branches of scrub oaks and willows.

Eliminator's first elk
Eliminator's first elk

An hour later the scope and the rifle were traveling on my back up another creek, back to the top of the ridge. The valley was very steep and snow covered, and I took multiple falls, finally tiring enough to fall and drop the rifle, which I previously religiously held up when falling, taking the impact with my own ribs but protecting the gun. This time the rifle slid off my shoulder and went under the snow, where the scope hit a deadfall with a dull “thunk”. It was the time for a break, and I sat down in the snow, fished out the rifle and proceeded trying to clean out the snow from all the crevices that exist on a bolt action.

And, as I lifted my eyes from the snow ball that my Weatherby has become, I saw elk on the opposite side of the valley, looking my way, trying to determine if I was any threat.

The rifle required removal of the bolt and purging of snow from the barrel as well, and it took a while to do this properly. Some 5 minutes later the elk were still there and I was ready to shoot. The Eliminator ranged the shot at 196 yards, and there was no need to adjust the point of impact. I picked out the fatter looking cow from the small herd of 5 and squeezed the trigger. The 200 grain TSX did its part, and the cow is now in the freezer.

The fall the rifle took had no effect on the point of impact, the bullet hit precisely where I put the aiming dot. In hindsight I should have shot the cow in the neck, preventing her from going down into the ravine before expiring and forcing me to pack the meat some 200 extra vertical yards, but I prefer the more reliable heart / lung or shoulder shot.

In conclusion, the Eliminator passed the ruggedness test. I did not get to use its long ranging ability but that is just it: you never know how far is the shot going to be, and having the instant, well computed bullet drop right in the scope is what I bought the Eliminator for. I recommend it to others for the same reason – take the uncertainty out of your moderate range, out to 450-500 yards, shot.