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Lifting the Veil: Digital Camouflage Systems

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Why a new camouflage?

Hunters are always seeking the edge when it comes to increasing their odds against prey becoming aware of their presence. So camoflauge naturally becomes and aid in decreasing the chances of an animal spotting them. If you are shooting something from a kilometer away, this probably isn’t so much of an issue. However, get up close, either in heavy bush or with a bow, and getting spotted becomes more of a factor. Manufacturers are constantly looking to provide more effective systems to help hunters in this.

The Veil system, from Hunters Element, is the first attempt that I am aware of for a New Zealand Hunting Gear company to provide a digital camouflage option. But why was it needed?

Many existing camouflages in the hunting market are based on mimicry systems – making the camouflage in the same pattern as the surrounding environment. RealTree being the most obvious example of this. At the same time, the military have nearly never used mimicry systems and instead headed into more abstract digital systems. Why the diversion?

Disruption vs. Mimicry Camouflage

It has been suggested that digital camouflage, which can also be called disruptive camouflage (which is still relatively new) – allows a much finer level of control over aspects such as macro and micro patterns, as well as being able to manipulate contrast in a much easier way. As I will cover shortly, these 3 factors play heavily on how effective camouflage is.

In addition, mimicry camo is often area specific – if you have a particular leaf on your jacket, it makes sense it will work the best next to trees with those leaves, but not so well in an area that a totally different type of tree grows.

Digital camouflage also seeks to create a more universally effective pattern. Optifade was one of the original, non-military digital patterns, and now we also have Veil.

Camouflage Concepts

What makes a good camouflage? While there are entire websites dedicated to this question – this is a quick primer on the subject –

Disruptive camouflage is generally made up of section of both Micro and Macro patterns. As the names would suggest, we are talking about small and large segments, often overlaid over each other and each providing a specifc function. How these patterns combine can also affect Isoluminance – how much resulting contrast is in the pattern, which then translates into how the system on a whole looks from a distance (where you can’t see the micro or macro patterns anymore).

Micro Patterns

The micro patterns are what helps you blend into your surrounding environment. In digital terms – this is the section that almost looks like white noise – random pixels that blur into the background as close distances.

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In the animal kingdom – you can’t go past the Leopard for an incredible implementation of the concept. For anything up close, macro patterns are what are going to help you merge into the background, making you blend. However, you will potentially still have the shape of a human. So how do we break that up? With Macro patterns.

Macro Patterns

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The point of the macro pattern is to break the human shape up into multiple ‘chunks’ – disrupting the overall silhouette we present. Everyone should be familiar with the concept of skylining – what happens when you walk along the top of a ridge with the sun behind you. Your outline clearly identifies you as human, or at least, as something actively moving around that shouldn’t be there.

Large shapes are what are required here – which can then be overlaid with the Micro patterns. Something as simple as a chess board starts the process…

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Now, the eye starts getting confused as to where the human begins and ends. Breaking up the outline. But up close, this would still appear as large flat surfaces, so the final step is to overlay the micro pattern again. This starts to really disrupt the body.

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Now, this is a really quick, really rough example of how the system works. Digital systems are tweaked and tested many, many times in multiple environments. But I am sure you get the idea. So, macro, overlayed with micro, but we still need to keep a third factor in mind. Isoluminance.

Isoluminance (Contrast)

Some may have noticed a phenomenon common with many traditional mimicry camo’s – up close they look awesome, but take a couple of steps back, and all the photorealistic images blur into one pattern. This is known as ‘blobbing out’ – and renders many camo’s useless at a distance. Now you are just a human silhouette again.

While it might seem counterintuitive, blocks of solid colour are actually quite important in camouflage. Large enough blocks means that the macro patterns get something to contrast against – again, working to further break up the human shape, and remain effective in doing so at larger distances.

Does colour matter?

Yes, and no. Remembering the points above, in regards to contrast, where colours certainly play a part in the pattern, do the colours matter?  How about just wearing a hawaiian shirt. It breaks up the silhouette! Lets also be honest, colour plays an important part when shopping for camo – and try as we might, our personal taste and how we perceive we are going to look wearing it does affect our purchasing decisions. Be honest.

How Deer See

For a good primer on this – I suggest you pop over and read my previous post – Blaze Camouflage – Safety while hunting. But, in short, animals don’t see like us. Deer in particular are mostly likened to a form of colourblindness, a result of them being having one less rod in their eye than us. It is suggest that they can’t difference much in the yellow-green, green, yellow, orange, and red range of colours, however, are sensitive to Blue and UV.

However. Birds.

You are stalking through the bush, quiet as a ghost, getting closer and closer to your quarry, ready for the strike. Then a pile of very noisy birds spot you and alert the entire forest to your presence. Many birds (Kea certainly) can see much closer to use when it comes to colours. So while blaze orange is all but invisible to deer, it may not be to some of the other animals you are trying to also not alert.

So – Hunters Element Veil

Hunters Element seem to be the first NZ company to combine the science into a new digital system for local hunters (please correct me if I am wrong). Their pattern combines macro and micro, focuses heavily on Isoluminance, and looks good to boot. In fact, I have received more comments about my Hunters Element Rugged Bush coat than any other piece of hunting clothing I have ever owned. People love the jacket, and the love the camo. That fact it is also going to be effective in the bush. Bonus!

Basically though, Hunters Element have decided to push the envelope in what to expect out of your camo. I would expect we will now start seeing a lot more digital influence in other suppliers gear in the future.

One camo to rule them all?

Remember – not all camo works in all environments. Forest/Bush/Mountains/Open Marsh are all quite different environments that require slightly different approaches. While I don’t pick Veil would hold up well in open marshland hunting waterfowl – all the imagery I have seen indicates from bush to the tops it will integrate nicely. The colour of camo tends to ‘shift’ a little depending on it’s surroundings – testament to some intelligent design and colourways.

Comparisons to other systems

I intend on organising a really good comparison of camouflages available to the hunters in NZ in the future. Stay tuned!

The Military

640px-Buntfarbenmuster_31_(Splittertarn)

I also wanted to quickly point out – this whole ‘digital’ camo aspect isn’t really that new. Digital probably more correctly means ‘created by a computer’ than it does geometrically influenced camouflage. Check this out – Splittertarnmuster or simply Splittertarn (splinter-pattern) was a four-colour military camouflage pattern developed by Germany in the late 1920s, and was first issued to the Reichswehr in 1931

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