Glassaholic

Professional photographer for over 15 years, now semi retired. Around guns most of my life, joined the Army in the 80's, started hunting in the 90's, had kids in the 2000's and caught the bug for precision long range shooting in the 2010's. Having been involved in photography and shooting I've always had an affinity for good glass which has turned into something of an obsession. My pursuit of good glass has led to numerous reviews of optics and gear that grab my attention.

Jul 162020
 

David vs. Goliath, East vs. West… the analogies abound, but my goal here is to evaluate these FFP high erector, high magnification juggernauts to find out how they perform and what benefits or drawbacks you can expect to see from the two different designs. The Schmidt & Bender requires no introduction as it has served as the “elite class” of sport optics for many years and while March has been around for a number of years as well, this boutique Japanese manufacturer has most of its loyalists from the F Class division and is wanting to make a bigger impact in the FFP market. This new scope represents the first FFP scope using their new High Master glass.

Please keep in mind that while I try to evaluate each scope based on its own merits, I am human and am prone to err at times.  This review is not intended to be exhaustive as both these scopes are on loan and I only have limited time to evaluate.  My goal with this review is to evaluate mechanical functionality which is different from mechanical accuracy, you should always conduct your own tests to ensure mechanical accuracy when you purchase a scope.

The very first difference is immediately obvious in the image above, once you pull them from the package, the Schmidt is ginormous while the March is smaller than many 5-25 scopes today (hence the David vs. Goliath reference) and while one might immediately gravitate towards the shorter scope there are some pros and cons which are discussed later on when combining high magnification erectors with short body (or short focal length) designs.

Keep in mind this evaluation is based on my own personal observations based on what my eyes “see” when looking through the scope.  My eyes are very sensitive to CA for example while some people cannot or have difficulty seeing CA when looking through the same scope.  The point is that everyone’s eyes are different, and my observations will undoubtedly be different from others. That being said I try to be as objective as possible but, like all of us, do have my bias’s but try my best to keep my reviews as unbiased as I can.  It should also be noted that I am not paid by anyone to do these reviews, this started years ago on Snipers Hide when I was trying to choose a light weight tactical scope that performed well in low light situations, recommendations covered high and low and ultimately I decided the only way to know for sure was to get all the scopes that fell within my criteria and see for myself (personal observation), sure I lost some money in it, but had decided that was worth the cost vs. getting a scope that ultimately would not satisfy my requirements.

I would like to thank March scopes in Japan for providing the March 5-42×56 High Master scope and Eurooptic.com for providing the Schmidt & Bender 5-45×56 High Power for this review.  If either of these scopes interest you I recommend checking them out at Eurooptic using the following links:

March 5-42×56 with FML-TR1 Reticle

S&B PMII 5-45×56 with LRR Mil Reticle

SPECS

The below specs are provided by the manufacturers which makes a good baseline of what these scopes offer.

As mentioned previously, the most notable difference comes in size, the Schmidt represents the traditional “long” scope design while the March represents the newer trend of “short” scope designs.  But other areas of note are:

  • Weight:  The Schmidt is a half-pound heavier
  • Field of view (FOV):  March uses a 26° wide angle eyepiece offering greater FOV throughout the magnification range
  • Turret Clicks:  Schmidt uses .05 mil clicks while March uses .1 mil clicks
  • Total Elevation Adjustment:  March offers 13 mils more total elevation
  • Close focus distance:  Schmidt has a decent 30m while March offers down to 10 yards

One other area of note is that while March is using mrad (milliradian) for the gradation values (like most other scopes in this class), Schmidt is using CM (centimeter) value; the clicks and values can be converted to the same, but you have to divide the Schmidt’s numbers by 10 in order to get the mrad equivalent – so 5 becomes .5 mrad and 60 becomes 6 mrad and so forth. Another reason why I do not like this method of measurement is that it gives the impression that the click value is linear when in fact it is angular – it serves to confuse between inches and centimeters vs. mrad and moa which are completely different.

TURRETS

As I mentioned above this review does not cover the accuracy of each scope but covers the functionality – since any manufacturer is capable of producing a lemon it’s always a good idea to test your scope to ensure its accuracy. 

Schmidt & Bender DT II+ turrets

This is my first experience with the new Schmidt DT II+ and having used both the standard PM II turrets and Ultra Short turrets in the past, Schmidt has knocked this one out of the park, not just in terms of feel but with very little to no play and very distinct clicks.  While the Schmidt offers only 6 mrad per revolution, each click is actually only .05 mrad in spacing so you are getting the same amount of clicks per rev as a standard turret with 12 mrad per rev, so while each click is half as fine as the standard .1 mrad turret the spacing is still very manageable.  I believe Schmidt’s ultimate goal with this scope is the ELR crowd and when shooting 2000+ yards the finer adjustments will come in handy especially if dialing for wind.  One other type of shooting both the magnification and finer adjustments will come in handy for is rimfire competition, but the sheer size of this scope will intimidate any short barreled rimfire rifle.    The added benefit of the DT II+ system is you have a lever for both elevation and windage that allows 3 settings: Locked, Unlocked with MTC and Unlocked without MTC (for those who may not know, MTC stands for More Tactile Clicks which means every full mrad value the click is stiffer than the rest providing a “more tactile” response).  When in the locked position there is no play or movement in the turret.  It should be noted that I had issue with previous generation MTC turrets, the full mil stronger click was so strong it would cause me to inadvertently overtravel by .1-.2 clicks coming out or going back which if I had a solution of 5.1 mils I would overtravel to 5.2 or 5.3 and would then have to dial back causing delay; however, the DT II+ MTC has rectified that and feels like the ideal weight without having to jump forward to get out of the full mrad value.  Someone at Schmidt has been paying attention!  The turrets are very tall but fit well ergonomically with the overall size of the scope and the top of the housing has a lighthouse window which displays the number for the revolution you are currently on.  The Schmidt turrets are non-translatable which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions – I tend to prefer this method.  I would rate these turrets as the best yet from Schmidt and Bender and arguably close to Tangent Theta in quality.

March FFP High Master turrets

When I first heard I was going to get the opportunity to test the new March 5-42×56 High Master I was mostly looking forward to seeing how this new “High Master” glass looked compared to previous March glass.  Having reviewed the March 3-24×42 and 3-24×52 FFP scopes previously and being impressed with the glass and build quality coming from Japan I was anxious to see what improvements they could make, but what I was not expecting was the quality of the new locking turrets provided with the new March scope.  The turrets available on the 3-24 left much to be desired but get the job done, landing on their appropriate marks consistently but with a bit of play followed by a mushy feeling.  The new turrets leave the play and mushiness in the dust and offer one of the nicest and most distinct clicks I’ve felt in a long range scope; click values come in the standard .1 mrad per click and 10 mrads per turn.  Not only are the clicks superb but you’ll also notice the face of both the elevation and windage turrets which share a lever with a blue and red dot, blue means unlocked and red means lock and one flip of the switch to locked and there is no play, no movement whatsoever, the turret is frozen in time until you move it back.  The turrets are of the translatable kind which means the turret housing itself will rise and fall depending on the direction you spin the turret; my preference is for non-translatable turrets but this is more personal preference as both do the same thing.  On the flip side of the windage turret comes an anomaly with the inclusion of a locking mechanism for the parallax wheel, I have not seen a great need from the community asking for this feature but it is there nonetheless in case you are one of the few who find yourself accidentally bumping your parallax out of alignment.  The final unique feature about this turret design is the zero stop which March is calling “0-set” and is done using a hex key at the top of the elevation turret, a novel approach – after you reset zero using the side hex bolts, you can set your zero stop anywhere you’d like but it is a tension stop and not a mechanical stop in that if you really crank the turret hard you can move past the stop point; for those who rely on predictable zero stop in low light situations this may be something that takes some getting used to. 

Turret Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):

Turret Click Spacing – Advantage March:  March – 10 | Schmidt – 9

This is more or less a personal preference, but my hand feels better with wider spacing.  Tangent Theta is the best I have felt from a 15 mil per rev turret while the Nightforce has one of the best 12 mil turrets in the ATACR series and the Schmidt DT II+ aligns with the ATACR as some of the best 120 click per rev turrets, but I must admit I think I like the new March turrets best of all with the distinct clicks of each .1 mil value and 10 mil per rev spacing.  The Schmidt is not far behind though giving up very little to the feel and functionality of the March.

Turret Click Feel – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 9

This can be very subjective, but I am drawn to more distinct click sounds with very little play between marks, the March has very distinct clicks with very little play, the Schmidt is slightly less distinct with slightly tighter spacing but very little play.

Turret Alignment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 9 | Schmidt – 10

Both Schmidt and March turrets aligned perfectly through my testing running the turret out to the extreme and back.  Because of the March’s translatable design, it does rise pretty high above the center mark which gives a slight perception you are off mark if your eye is not perfectly centered.

Turret Reset Zero and Zero Stop – Tie: March – 8 | Schmidt – 8

In order to reset zero on both scopes you have to loosen the side hex bolts on the turret housing, then spin the turret to align zero and re-tighten, this is typical of most long range scopes today and is only bested by the toolless design of the Tangent Theta turrets.  Schmidt comes with a factory preset zero stop while March offers the hex key adjustable zero stop mechanism.  I wish more manufacturers would come out with toolless designs or offer a convenient hex key in the turret housing like Kahles.  There is definitely room for improvement from all manufacturers.

Turret Locking Mechanism – Advantage Schmidt: March – 9 | Schmidt – 10

Both Schmidt and March offer a locking mechanism, the Schmidt places theirs at the back of each turret while March places theirs on the top of each turret.  Both are rock solid when in the locked position but the Schmidt offers one feature the March does not have with the MTC option.

Total Travel Adjustment – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 8

For an ELR scope the Schmidt seems to be shortchanged a bit in the elevation department, especially with other scopes from the manufacturer offering 35 mrad of travel, the 5-45 only has 27 mrad of travel; however, at .05 mrad per click it is double the clicks of traditional .1 mrad click scopes.  The March on the other hand offers a class leading 40 mrad of elevation which is going to be appreciated by the ELR crowd.  On the windage side the March offers over double the travel of the Schmidt with 14.8 mrad of travel vs. Schmidt’s 6 mrad.

Overall Turret Mechanical Assessment – Advantage March: March – 56 | Schmidt – 54 (60 points possible)

Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization.  I would rank these turrets as among the best available today. It should be noted that the Schmidt has the windage zero offset at the 11 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position, this does make it a little difficult to identify where true zero is if you dial elevation, if you hold elevation it may not be that big of a deal.

Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):

Magnification Ring Movement – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 8

While the Schmidt boasts a greater 9x magnification range vs. 8.4x on the March, the magnification throw is much wider and my particular model exhibited a slight rough feel while the March throw was shorter and very smooth throughout the entire range. Of note is that the Schmidt increases magnification in a CCW direction while the March is the opposite in the CW direction.

Parallax knob Movement – Tie:  March – 9 | Schmidt – 9

Both March and Schmidt exhibited very smooth parallax adjustment, March has a locking mechanism on the parallax which is a first I’ve seen and the jury is still out on whether or not this is actually a benefit. 

Parallax Adjustment – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 7 | Schmidt – 9

Schmidt has numbers marked while March has a symbol indicating smaller to larger.  Schmidt had more forgiving parallax when transitioning between objects both far and near while the March had to be “fine-tuned” in order to correct for parallax.  One must be aware that parallax correction does not always equate to an in-focus image so time was taken to ensure parallax was correctly adjusted for.

Diopter Adjustment – Advantage March:  March – 9 | Schmidt – 8

Both the March and the Schmidt offer a “fast focus” diopter allowing for quicker adjustments, March offers a threaded locking mechanism to help keep the adjustment from moving after being set.

Illumination Dial – Advantage March:  March – 9 | Schmidt – 7

Schmidt still uses an illumination tumor that is separate from the turret housing while almost every other manufacturer has gone to putting the illumination settings in line with the parallax adjustment.  March is using a rubber cover over a push button for on/off functionality with numbers 1-6 on the dial while Schmidt uses a rheostat style to go from off to full power.

Overall Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment – Advantage March: March – 43 | Schmidt – 41 (50 points possible)

Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization.  I would rank these turrets as among the best available today.

OPTICAL QUALITY

One of the most difficult areas to ascertain with any manufacturer is the quality of glass they use in a given scope model, or rather, how the image looks to the shooters eye when viewing the FOV through the scope.  Traditionally when it comes to optics one generally “gets what they pay for” and hence the higher end optics tend to have the higher end prices; however, with new design technologies we’ve seen some scopes punch above their weight class.  It is impossible to take images through the scope to show the quality of the image to the naked eye, this is because any image taking system also has its own lens system which introduces its own optical aberrations and if the system is better aligned on one scope verses another it may throw off values, so you will not see any through the scope images because I do not want to skew opinion based on IQ of one image over another.  So for this evaluation I took meticulous notes based on my naked eye observations under as best controlled conditions I could get outdoors.

Optical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):

Resolution (Center) – Advantage March:  March – 9 | Schmidt – 8

Looking through both scopes at distance (1000 yards) you are often dealing with atmospherics that can wreak havoc for any optical system, both these scopes performed very well out to 1000 yards, so well that I had to throw up my resolution chart and evaluate line resolution at close range so atmospherics had minimal effect, when testing in these conditions the center resolution victor became clear, the March was able to resolve about 10% better than the Schmidt throughout the magnification range above 10x.

Resolution (Edge) – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 7 | Schmidt – 9

The Schmidt had the clear advantage in edge to edge sharpness throughout the magnification range.  The sweet spot for the Schmidt appeared to be in the 5-20x magnification range while the sweet spot for the March was between 20-25x.  March is utilizing a brand new 26° wide angle eyepiece that offers and HD viewing experience similar to the ZCO with very thin outer edges while looking through the scope, but as a result of this wide angle design one of the effects is the edge distortion which is apparent throughout the magnification range – one of the drawbacks to such enormous FOV and a tradeoff the shooter will have to decide.

Color/Contrast – Advantage March:  March – 10 | Schmidt – 8

When I bought my March 3-24×52 I currently owned a Schmidt ultra short 5-20 and was surprised to find the March, with its 8x erector design, faired very well in color/contrast to the Schmidt’s 4x erector design.  Likewise, with the new High Master scope I was surprised to see that the March does very well with maintaining contrast and color and doing so better than the Schmidt up until 25x, at 20x the Schmidt exhibited what appeared to be flare while the March in the same conditions held a very strong image, at 25x and higher both scopes showed increased degradation in color and contrast.

Chromatic Aberrations (CA) – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 7 | Schmidt – 9

A hotly debated topic – CA, which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target but can affect the clarity of the target.  One situation I noticed is that while the March maintained excellent control over center CA I was able to observe more CA towards the edges, I believe this may have to do more with the wide angle eyepiece due to the curvature of the lens – sacrifice a bit of CA and sharpness to gain greater FOV is the tradeoff here.  One other area is CA sensitivity with lateral movement off the center of the scope, you can quickly induce CA in these situations which are often rectified by proper cheekweld/eye placement behind the center of the scope.  Up to 15x both scopes handled CA very well both center and edge, but above 15x the Schmidt showed better control of edge CA most likely due to the more traditional (longer) scope tube and resulting optical formula.  The March suffered most with edge CA and some CA in certain conditions were observable around the black reticle and numbers.

Depth of Field (DOF) – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 7 | Schmidt – 9

The Schmidt has extraordinary DOF, objects outside of the plane of focus maintain sharpness and detail for quite a distance, the March is not as forgiving and has to be dialed a lot more with finesse of the parallax wheel – fine adjustments are necessary and both ends of the magnification range with the sweet spot coming between 20-25x offering the most forgiveness.  With the Schmidt it wasn’t until about 30x that DOF began to fall off some.

Field of View (FOV) – Advantage March:  March – 10 | Schmidt – 9

For the longest time the scopes that boasted some of the widest FOV have been the Optronika inspired class of 5-25×56 scopes (e.g. Tangent Theta, Minox ZP5 and Premier Heritage) but when Schmidt introduced the 5-45×56 a few years ago it took the crown in the long range scope market, but the new March 5-42×56 High Master with its 26° eyepiece is the new king of the hill.  Even the new Nightforce NX8 and Burris XTR III series with their impressive FOV numbers can’t really compete leaving the March in a category unto its own.  Outside of the specs which offer FOV numbers at the low and high magnification settings, at 15x I was able to determine on both scopes how many mils could be viewed.  The following numbers are from center so to get the full FOV value just multiply x2:

MagMarch 5-42Schmidt 5-45
15x15.5 mrad13.7 mrad
20x11.7 mrad10.2 mrad
25x9.5 mrad8.4 mrad
30x7.8 mrad6.9 mrad
35x6.7 mrad5.9 mrad
42x5.5 mrad5.0 mrad
FOV values from center to edge

Eyebox – Tie:  March – 8 | Schmidt – 8

I have seen varied definitions of eyebox in the community, so to be clear, here is my definition which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope. Both the March and the Schmidt showed decent eyebox forgiveness through about 30x with both getting more finicky at higher magnifications. The March seemed to have a slight edge in eyebox forgiveness around 25x.

Twilight Transmission (low light performance) – advantage March:  March – 8 | Schmidt – 7

To be honest, I did not spend much time with these scopes in low light situations but both of them showed impressive results after the sun went down, the March seemed to maintain a slight bit more color fidelity while both scopes were “bright” when magnification was set appropriately.

Overall Optical Assessment – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 66 | Schmidt – 67 (80 points possible)

The Schmidt has a brilliant image from edge to edge with excellent color and contrast while the March has some edge distortion but makes up for it with higher center resolution and brilliant color, possibly the best color/contrast I’ve seen.  The Schmidt manages CA slightly better while the March offers enormous FOV throughout the magnification range.  The Schmidt has very forgiving DOF while the March is more finicky requiring a lot more adjustment of the side focus setting. The Goldilocks zone (superb optical performance) for the Schmidt was between 5-20x while the March was between 20-25x during my testing.

Special Note on Resolution:  As mentioned previously the center resolution between both scopes appeared very close during my normal testing so I decided to throw up my resolution chart at close range (to minimize atmospheric interference) and see how many lines my eyes could differentiate before they blended together, as you can see in the chart below as you move from left to right the lines get closer together, with each scope I would place the optical center/crosshair where the lines began to blur together and I would note which section that occurred.

The results were surprising because the March was the clear winner at every magnification, and you’ll notice there was some falloff with the Schmidt above 30x where resolution actually dropped with 35x exhibiting the worst performance throughout the range.  So I had to ask myself why, during normal testing, did it appear the Schmidt may have been sharper and I believe that because the Schmidt has better edge to edge sharpness it tricked my eyes into thinking the overall image was as sharp or sharper than the March.  I think further testing is necessary with equipment beyond what I have available to me to more accurately assess the lp/mm but the below chart shows what I saw with my eyes; keep in mind these are indicative of the units I had on hand and sample variance could have an effect on results for your individual scope.

MagMarch 5-42Schmidt 5-45
15x40-45 lp/mm35-40 lp/mm
20x50 lp/mm40-45 lp/mm
25x60 lp/mm50 lp/mm
30x60 lp/mm50 lp/mm
35x70 lp/mm40 lp/mm
40x60-70 lp/mm45-50 lp/mm
Resolution Chart Results

RETICLE & ILLUMINATION

One of the most important choices one can make in a long range scope today is the reticle, this is, after all, what you will see every single time you bring the scope to your eye so it’s important to make sure that it fits the needs or your shooting style.  That being said, reticle selection or preference is extremely subjective and saying Brand X reticle is “the best” is like saying “Brand X vanilla ice cream is the best” – we all have different tastes and the good news is that there are many, many options available to the long range community.  With this in mind, my ratings below should be taken with a grain of salt because they are based on MY preference, but I will explain what I like and why, which should help you understand if it might be something you would like or not like even though I may have a differing opinion.

Reticle & Illumination Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):

Reticle Usability – Advantage March:  March – 10 | Schmidt – 7

The reticle in the March is their new FML-TR1 which is a superb design created by none other than the Dark Lord of Optics himself.  The reticle provided in the Schmidt is their new LRR-MIL design.  Both are a newer .2 mil hash design with the TR1 offering a Christmas tree and the LRR with no tree but a ranging grid.  The LRR-MIL is thin, we’re talking very thin, thinner than the SCR2 Mil reticle in the new Burris XTR III which I thought was too thin, the center dot all but disappears unless the background is a solid light color, like a target painted white.  I do not like the sentences written in the reticle and the ranging grid takes up a lot of space.  Reticle was unusable below 15x.  The FML-TR1 on the other hand has become my favorite reticle, everything is based off .2 mil distance, even the gaps so you always know it’s .2 mil.  When I first saw the specs for the reticle, I was worried the center would be too thick, but it is ideal in my book offering the perfect balance and allowing it to be usable even at 5x.  The Christmas tree is made up of small dots and practically disappears if you’re not using it which is how I prefer tree reticles. 

Illumination Color and Brightness – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 6 | Schmidt – 8

Both scopes offer red illumination as the only option.  Schmidt has always had lackluster performance when it comes to brightness, but sufficient for low light engagements, previous March scopes have been about on par with neither offering a “daylight” bright reticle.  But that has changed with the Schmidt 5-45, this is the brightest illumination I’ve seen from the German manufacturer and is usable during daylight, while the March has improved on previous performance but still does not deliver a daylight bright illumination out of their module, although it is ample for low light situations.  Both scopes did not exhibit any noticeable bleed in very low light but both designs only illuminate the very center cross of the design.

Overall Reticle & Illumination Assessment – Advantage March:  March – 16 | Schmidt – 15 (20 points possible)

The Schmidt LRR-Mil seems optimized for purely ELR and/or rimfire work where precision is of utmost importance, for me personally I found the reticle to be too thin in almost every situation.  The FML-TR1 on the other hand feels at home for just about any situation, the center may be a bit too think for some tastes with ELR or if you shoot .17 caliber primarily but one benefit is that once you move out of the center (like you would if holding wind) the rest of the reticle is more thin.  My personal opinion is that the FML-TR1 is the best crossover reticle I’ve seen yet and by crossover, I mean it is as much at home on a competition long range rifle as it is on a hunting rig whereas the LRR-Mil I would never consider for a hunting application.

ERGONOMICS

Overall Ergonomic Assessment – Advantage March:  March – 9 | Schmidt – 7 (10 points possible)

Schmidt continues to excel with traditional designs in long range scopes, clearly they have some of the best glass and best fit and finish of any scope on the market; however, the “long” scope is getting just that… putting a scope the size of a baseball bat on your rifle is falling out of favor especially with the competition crowd; the newer shorter scope designs are beginning to take hold within the marketplace and the March offers almost the same magnification while reducing size and weight considerably.  Schmidt really needs to get rid of that illumination tumor and free up more space on the tube for mounting options and while the new DT II+ turrets are the best from Schmidt to date the overall ergonomic winner is March with its short body and astonishingly good locking turrets, the scope looks at home on any rifle from short covert styles to the beastly ELR rigs.

FIT & FINISH

Overall Fit & Finish Assessment – Advantage Schmidt:  March – 8.5 | Schmidt – 9 (10 points possible)

As good as the March is in overall craftsmanship, and it is superb… the best I’ve seen from Japan, earning it a spot in the ranks of alpha class scopes that are dominated by European craftsmanship, I do have to give the nod to Schmidt & Bender with overall fit and finish.  Quality reeks from this scope everywhere you look, the smoothness of each mechanical feature, the precise fit of every single part abounds with the precision that German manufacturing is known for.  All that being said March has their own set of impeccable crafts-men and women who are hand assembling each and every scope, if Schmidt gets a 9 then March is hot on their heals with an 8.5, we are truly splitting hairs when it comes to the fit and finish of each of these scopes – as it should be with the alpha class.

PRICE

Overall Price Assessment – Advantage March:  March – 7 | Schmidt – 5 (10 points possible)

Most knowledgeable shooters are aware that the alpha class of sport optics is not cheap, you’re guaranteed to pay in the thousands for these top quality optics, but the March and Schmidt scopes really push the wallet to the limit.  MSRP for the March comes in at $4200 while the Schmidt is at $5650!  Street price you can expect to pay less, check with eurooptic.com for the best price available.

OVERALL SCORE

Final Score – Advantage March:  March – 205.5 | Schmidt – 198 (out of 240 possible points)

The final results are very close and I could easily see any one shooter choosing one scope over the other.  But at the end of the day the March just has so much going for it: less expensive, shorter, lighter, more ergonomic with superb turrets, High Master glass with amazing color/contrast and outstanding center resolution with an industry leading FOV, and throw in a fantastic new reticle in the FML-TR1.  The Schmidt bests the March in several areas including edge to edge sharpness, overall fit and finish, MTC clicks DOF and forgiving parallax.  The Schmidt also separates itself by being a dedicated ELR or rimfire scope while the March seems to be more of a “one size fits all” design that can find its home on just about any rifle out there.  If the features of the Schmidt suit your fancy more than March you won’t find an argument from me, but if the March finds its way into your heart with all it offers I think you will be pleasantly surprised and at over $1400 less your wallet will be thanking you as well.

Areas of Improvement

March

The first item that comes to mind is for March to design non-translatable turrets, that is – turrets that do not rise and fall as you spin them up or down.  Move the zero set hex key under the locking lever to protect debris from hindering operation.  Get an illumination module like so many other new scopes that have excellent low light quality with no bleed but also bright enough to be used when the sun is out.  Find that Goldilocks zone between magnification and scope length which allows for much more forgiving DOF and parallax.

Schmidt

Get rid of the illumination tumor already!  A PM III series with shortened bodies (doesn’t have to be ultra short short) for many of their long range scopes (e.g. 5-25, 3-27 and 5-45) would be welcomed.  The LRR-Mil reticle falls short in some areas and the GR2ID reticle is a bit too busy for some, it would behoove Schmidt to send some of their German engineers designing these to the good ol’ US of A and get input from the PRS/NRL crowd.  There’s a reason why the Kahles SKMR series, the ZCO MPCT series, the Nightforce Mil-C/XT and Tangent Theta’s new Gen 3XR have captured so many competitors hearts.  Years ago Minox accomplished this feat with the MR4 and now March with the FML-TR1 – it is time for Schmidt to finally get it right when it comes to a good .2 mil Christmas tree reticle that’s not too thin and not too busy.

About the author:

Bill has been around firearms since he was a young boy and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game.  Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist).  Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself.  Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsmen.

Score Cards

Oct 102018
 

By Bill (Glassaholic)

Background:

I have a confession to make – I have always been frustrated with the gap between 3-15x/4-16x scopes and 6-24x/5-25x scopes; I don’t feel the 3-15/4-16 provides quite enough top end for long range shooting (for me personally) and while the 6-24’s and 5-25’s provide enough top end, many come by sacrificing necessary FOV on the short end for close up shots.  It’s baffled me why few manufacturer’s make 5-20/4-20 range scopes, but that is changing as we’ve seen more and more offerings filling this gap.  The name “Tract” may not be a household name among the sport optics industry as they are new to the scene and have mostly catered to the hunting arena thus far; however, in early 2018 the “new” Toric 4-20×50 FFP scope was introduced and that caught my attention for reasons which should now be obvious – it is an ideal magnification range for my use.  A visit to their website: https://www.tractoptics.com/about will provide most of the information you need to know about their company and product lines.  However, here is a brief summary:  The company was founded in 2015 by Jon LaCorte and Jon Addis both of whom have their roots in the sport optics giant – Nikon.  With their knowledge of the industry and experience working with Nikon they realized there was a market that many manufacturers were missing and decided to start their own company and offer a “direct to consumer” pricing model.  What is “direct to consumer” you may ask?  Basically, it is a manufacturing model that cuts out the “middle man” of the dealer, thus allowing the manufacturer to sell direct to the consumer at a better price point than they could if they had to use a dealer network and pay for dealer margins.  Obviously, dealers don’t like this, but the consumer does.  One other recent startup company who is also using this pricing model is Revic with their PMR428.  The Toric is made in Japan by the same manufacturer who is known to put out other high quality optics, but one of the unique features of the Toric is that they are using German Schott HT (High Transmission) glass.  Given the specs, one might think this scope would easily push the $2000 price point or higher; however, due to the direct to consumer pricing the scope currently sells for a little over $1100 direct from Tract.  The new Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP scope seems to be a match made in heaven with Japanese manufacture and Schott HT glass, read on to see if this scope lives up to what the specs promise.



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Review Disclaimer

Please understand this is a “subjective” review as anything that involves the human eye as an instrument for measurement should be classified as “subjective”.  Asking someone “what is your favorite scope” or “who has the best glass” is almost akin to asking “what is the best color”, we can all give our opinions but at the end of the day, it is still our opinion and often times those opinions are further jaded by bias and we all have our bias’s whether we admit it or not.  I have been reviewing high end scopes since 2013 and am no stranger to what would be considered tier one, alpha and elite scopes, so it is with this knowledge and experience that I make an effort to give a fair and honest review.  Understand I am not a brand loyalist (someone who is committed to only using and promoting one brand), I look for the tools that will better serve me in my sport and if one brand makes a better tool then I don’t have a problem investigating the viability of that tool for my own personal use.  I am not paid by any manufacturer to do these reviews, I do them out of my own pursuit for an optic that will fit my needs and enjoy sharing my findings as a benefit to the sport optics community.  One final thought, we typically do not review multiple copies of the same scope and there can be sample variance from the same manufacturer so keep in mind this review focuses on one copy of this scope.

Tract Riflescopes

The Specs

One of the first things we look at (or ought to look at) when a scope is announced or captures our interest is the specifications.  This can give us information about the scope and its intended use, things like the magnification range, the front objective, FOV, size, weight, reticle and turret information can help inform us whether this particular scope would be a good candidate for our own personal use.  Often times I am asked on the forums, “what is the best scope for me” and I often respond with “what is your intended purpose: how far do you intend to shoot, what kind of rifle is it going on, will you only be shooting during the day or will you have low light situations, do you have a SFP or FFP preference, will you be shooting, paper, steel or game or a combination of all the above, do you care about how heavy the scope is?”  These types of questions or rather the answers to these questions help us understand better the environment the scope will be used for, which helps narrow down the choices from the vast array of options.  While this review focuses on the Tract Toric I did have some other scopes available to provide a basis for comparison, here is a list of specs for comparison:

Here’s a few of the scopes I had on hand one of the days I was testing:

The scopes from left to right:  Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, Vortex PST II 3-15×44, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44

Reticle:

Over the past few years the conversations on the forums have shifted somewhat whenever the question is asked “what scope should I get?”.  Of late, you can often find someone (myself included) recommending the poster consider the reticle first and then choose the scope.  This is a testament to both how reticles have changed as well as their importance in long range shooting and how good the scopes have improved regarding reliability and optical performance.  The new “craze” of late seems to be the .2 mil hash Christmas tree style reticles like the Kahles SKMR3, Minox MR4, Sig Sauer DEV-L, Vortex EBR-7B to name a few.  Unfortunately, Tract doesn’t have any design like this (though I am trying to convince them to consider it) and only offers a 0.5 mil hash reticle; however, if a plain mil hash reticle floats your boat then the Toric has you covered.  I should note that Tract also offers an MOA reticle for those who prefer MOA over MRAD.

Image disclaimer, the below through the scope images are to give an idea for how the reticle looks only, please do not use through the scope images as an indication of IQ, the image is always sharper to the naked eye than it is for a camera due to lens, focus, position, vibration, etc.

Ignore the blurry reticle image below, that was my fault, the IQ was crystal clear at 4x and the reticle easily usable.


Illumination:

Illumination is almost standard on every modern FFP scope made with few exceptions (ahem Leupold!), but getting illumination “right” so it does not bleed in low light, but can also be dialed bright enough to be used during bright sunlight can be difficult to accomplish.  During my testing I found the Tract Toric’s daylight illumination to be one of the best I’ve seen to date even among tier one optics, being very usable even in bright sunlit situations, keep in mind we’re not talking red dot bright here, but bright enough to see the red stadia lines.  Low light illumination was nicely balanced with no discernible bleed.  The Toric has an on/off setting between each illumination click.

Illumination was brighter to the naked eye than the image shows below.

Turrets:

Another very subjective opinion is turret feel and it seems that no two manufacturers have the same feel of turrets, nor does it seem that many can agree on “what is the best feel”, so if you prefer a heavy thunk, a light tick or a high pitched ting when you move between mils, this is going to have to be something that you experience yourself.  Personally, I do not get too caught up in turret “feel” or sound, what matters more (to me) is whether I can accurately and quickly spin my turrets to the position I need for the shot, and I’ve found I can do that with relative ease with most manufacturers turrets these days.  That being said, I can say the Tract Toric has decent turrets, they are a bit on the “large” side but the benefit of that is cold weather handling with gloves will be very easy to manipulate the turret.  The Toric utilizes a standard 10 mil per rev turret and offers 20 mil of total travel which with today’s modern cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor will be more than enough to get you well beyond 1000 yards should the need arise.  One of my favorite features of the Toric’s turrets is the locking mechanism, when in their “natural” closed state, there is no chance the turrets will be bumped to a different setting, you have to lift both the elevation and the windage turret in order to adjust and the tension to do this is light enough to easily make the change with bare hands or with gloves but providing enough resistance they won’t accidentally unlock.  Tract also provides a unique zero stop mechanism that can be inserted into the turret housing.  I will say this, some manufacturers offer a “toolless” design that allows you to reset zero but the Toric requires the use of a 2.5mm Allen wrench to unscrew the cap, as a future enhancement I’d love to see Tract offer a toolless alternative so the turrets are a bit more field friendly, because if you forget that Allen wrench and find yourself wanting to make adjustments in the field, you’re out of luck.  When the turret is unlocked there is a slight wiggle before the turret will click to the next .1 mil mark, but not enough to throw off dialing your solution.  “Turret purists”, as I call them, may have an issue with the sound and feel of the Toric, but for the price I would say only the Vortex PST II has a better “feel”.

Tracking:

I took the scope out to my local 1000y range the other day and I felt the scope tracked better than I can shoot, when I did my part I rang steel from 375 out to 1000 yards, the most impressive shot of the day came on a cold bore after eating lunch – got into position (prone), aimed at the 1000 yard 10” plate, check wind, check level, breath, squeeze and a couple seconds later the report of lead on steel.  Outside of some anomalies the majority of $1k+ scopes manufactured today have very good tracking, if your scope exhibits any anomalies (e.g. does not track) I recommend that you send it back to the manufacturer and request they fix it, any $1k+ scope manufactured today should track true, if it does not then it is a manufacturer’s defect and should be repaired.  I highly recommend you perform your own box test (https://www.snipershide.com/snipers-hide-scope-calibration/) to verify tracking after properly mounting your scope.

Ergonomics and design: 

Smooth parallax that goes down to 25y, ample mag ring resistance, locking elevation and windage all make for one fine package in this short body scope – I say this because the Toric is only 13.7” long, that’s just 1/10” of an inch longer than the Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20.  The only downside to the Toric’s design is its weight, at 34oz this is one of the heaviest 30mm scopes out, a full 3oz heavier than the Burris XTR II 4-20×50 which boasts a 34mm tube and 7 more mils of travel, but it still falls under my threshold for tactical/hunting scopes which for me is at 35oz.  The Toric does come with pretty much useless front and rear caps, they are small plastic covers that fall off easily, if Tract added a couple bungie cords to make them bikini caps that would have been much better, the saving grace here is that Tract offers some very nice Tenebraex caps at a reasonable price as an option.  One last thing to mention is the Toric only comes in one color and it’s not traditional rifle scope black, it’s actually a gray color, but dark enough that it doesn’t look odd sitting atop most rifles.

Eyebox:

There are some terms that are thrown around in the community that may have different meaning to different people, one of the most misunderstood in this regard is eyebox, which is most often confused with the spec for eye relief and while having long eye relief can be a good thing it does not define how good of an eyebox a particular scope has; I have seen scopes with long eye relief that have a really poor eyebox and scopes with shorter eye relief that have a forgiving eyebox.  So, let me give my definition for eyebox which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope.  Something else that can affect eyebox performance is where you mount the scope and your cheekweld, if you mount too far forward or too far back you will experience a “tunneled” sight picture and if your scope is high or low and your cheeckpiece is not in the right position then once again you’re going to have a distorted sight picture making for a difficult eyebox.  So rule number one is getting the proper mount of your scope on your rifle, my recommended method for getting the proper position is to put your scope at its maximum magnification setting (this is where most scopes have their worst eyebox performance) and then place the scope in the rings without fully tightening, now, close your eyes and bring the rifle up to your natural hold, open your eyes, do you have a clear sight picture?  If you have to wiggle your head or adjust your position slightly, then you do not have the proper mounting position, move your scope forward or back and repeat the process.  You may also need to adjust your cheekpiece, if you have an adjustable one that’s pretty simple (if you do not then I recommend you get one or look into a good stock pack like the ones from Triad Tactical).  The goal is that every time you bring the scope up to your natural hold, the sight picture is spot on, if you do this then even scopes with a very finicky eyebox’s should perform decently for you.

With that winded explanation in mind, how does the Toric perform in regard to eyebox – for an ultra short design I would say it performs very well, keeping in mind that designing Ultra Short scopes and getting them to perform alongside their regular length peers is not an easy task which is usually reflected in the price of the scope; however, more recent trends have shown some newer designs like the Toric which do not break the bank but still offer very good eyebox performance and my testing showed again and again that the Toric was very easy to get behind.

Optical Quality:

Probably the most subjective test there is of a scope is identifying optical quality; there are so many factors that go into a good optical formula that it’s hard to quantify, which is why there is no spec by any manufacturer that defines the quality of the image/glass, for that you have to rely on either looking through the scope in the poor lighting of a store or if you’re lucky, find a store that will allow you to take multiple scopes outside on a stable mount and look through them side by side in good lighting and then go back right after sunset and look through them again, because I have found that many scopes perform well in good lighting conditions, but when the light gets low, you begin to see a separation of quality.

Things I look for in a scope for optical quality are resolution, color, contrast, control of CA and low light performance.  If a scope performs well in all these areas then I consider it to have excellent IQ (Image Quality), if it suffers in one area but excels at others I am usually okay with that, but if it suffers in two or more than it really needs to be a niche scope for me to want to keep it and/or recommend it.  I determine optical quality by first setting up the scope properly for the diopter and parallax and then conduct a combination of tests both near and far, as well as perform an analysis at 100 yards using a modified Snellen eye chart as well as a High/Low Contrast target.  However, keep in mind that atmospheric conditions can affect the outcome of any tests not performed in controlled environments, I do not have access to these environments, so I do the best I can with the conditions nature provides.  I also try to compare the review scope(s) to another that I am confident in its optical performance as well as a few other scopes of similar design to get an idea of overall performance.  One final note, most of the time I only review one scope and there can be sample variation so if you hear of everyone else raving about the quality of their scopes (same model) and yours just does not perform, it may be wise to send your scope in to the manufacturer to have it tested.

For this review the Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP was put up against a Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, a Vortex PST II 3-15×44, a Vortex PST II 5-25×50, a Burris XTR II 4-20×50 and a Sig Sauer Tango4 4-16×44.

  • Resolution – there are few scopes in the Toric’s price range that one could consider punches above its weight class, one of those scopes is the Bushnell LRHS/LRTS which has a phenomenal track record for having excellent optical quality rivaling closely with scopes that cost twice as much. I can confidently say the resolution of the Toric was superb for its price, easily matching the LRHS on hand and maybe even performing slightly better in certain situations, the fact that Tract was able to get this quality from a short body and 5x erector vs. the LRHS’s long body and 4x erector is pretty amazing.  Looking at detail like blades of grass, grain in wood, rocks and dirt revealed the Toric was truly a best in class in IQ, this was also apparent in the Snellen eye chart test.
    Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS > Burris XTR II => Vortex PST II 3-15 > Vortex PST II 5-25 > Sig Tango4
  • Contrast – Contrast and resolution kind of go hand in hand; however, contrast can be another term that might be misunderstood so let me define – the ability of the scope to differentiate between smaller and smaller details of more and more nearly similar tonal value (this was pulled, in part, from an excellent article on Luminous-Landscape https://luminous-landscape.com/understanding-lens-contrast/). Using the contrast chart and determining detail in distant objects you begin to get a feel for “how much” detail a scope provides.  The Toric once again proved to be a peer of the stellar Bushnell LRHS with overall contrast, the Bushnell may have had a slight edge in high contrast while both were equally superb in low contrast testing with the Toric maybe having a slight advantage.
    Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS > Vortex PST II 5-25 > Burris XTR II => Vortex PST II 3-15 > Sig Tango4
  • Color – in recent years I have found more and more scopes getting better at color, whether improvements in multi-coating or better manufacturing techniques of the glass itself I’m not certain but it is nice to see this improvement.
    Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS => Vortex PST II 3-15 => Vortex PST II 5-25 => Burris XTR II = Sig Tango4
  • CA – another hotly debated topic is chromatic aberration which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target; however, Ilya has mentioned “It is not terribly critical for aiming, but it is important for observation and image fidelity during twilight before your eye transitions into scotopic vision.” This is one area where the Toric struggled a bit against some of its newer peers, Vortex has done the best job with their new PST II line IMO.  CA can rear its ugly head even with some tier one optics, but seeing heavy CA in a $3k scope vs a $1k scope is very different and for its price point I found the Toric’s CA to be acceptable.
    Vortex PST II 3-15 => Vortex PST II 5-25 > Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric = Burris XTR II > Sig Tango4
  • Low Light – My testing takes into account all the above but in low light settings, usually after the sun sets and into where it almost gets too dark to see. In these conditions I like to set my scopes at 12x to take advantage of the exit pupil with fading light while still providing enough magnification to stress the limits of the scope (and my eyes).  The amazing thing here is that all scopes performed admirably well in low light, contrast this from scopes I reviewed 5 years ago and the “budget” scopes then just couldn’t cut it while today’s scopes seem to be built for low light performance.  I had to look long and hard at minute details in fading light to truly discern which scopes performed better, when not side by side it would be very difficult indeed to determine which, if any, performed better.  The larger objective scopes still have a slight advantage over the smaller objective designs, but the difference is getting quite small with newer designs.  The Toric performed extremely well in low light testing.
    Tract Toric > Vortex PST II 5-25 => Burris XTR II > Bushnell LRHS => Vortex PST II 3-15 => Sig Tango4

Conclusion:

The fit and finish of this scope is truly impressive for it’s price point, I am really liking the overall design and don’t mind the matte gray finish as much as I thought I would, the addition of the sunshade and optional Tenebraex caps are nice touches to complete the package.  The short design of the Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP makes this an ideal scope for many rigs from bolt action rifles to AR platforms as well as covert style rigs.  Are there better scopes, yes, but none of those scopes offer the same performance and size at the Toric’s price.  Sure, it has a couple issues with CA and weight but with it being as short as it is and having the excellent IQ it has, this will more than make up for its shortcomings for many shooters.  I would like to see Tract come out with a .2 mil Christmas tree style reticle as well as a possible future enhancement offering lower profile turrets with a toolless zero design.  For optical purists looking for the best glass at an “affordable” price this scope deserves your attention; to get a “better” scope you’re going to have to fork over 2x and in if you want a quality ultra short it’ll cost you 3x as much.  The Tract Toric is one of the best scopes available at its price and higher.  I highly recommended this optic for those looking for a great scope in the $800 – $2000 class.

At home on an AR platform, this is my 14.5″ bbl with pinned brake for reference.

The Leupold Mark 5HD, Kahles K318i and Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50:

While not part of my initial review, I did have a Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44, a Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 and a Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50 on hand.  At over $3k the comparison to the $1k Toric seems a bit unfair with the Kahles and Schmidt, but both offer a similar magnification range and short design with the Kahles coming in a full 1.4” shorter and the Schmidt Ultra Short coming in at only 1/10” shorter.  Resolution and contrast are close between these scopes which is a testament to the quality the Japanese manufacturer’s continue to put out, that being said the Kahles is an even shorter design and the Schmidt has a greater magnification range while both handle CA better, the Kahles and Schmidt also have “better” turrets in regard to overall click feel while the Kahles boasts one of the best Christmas tree reticles in the business with the SKMR3, but all this comes at a cost, at 3x as much as the Toric you have to ask yourself “is it really worth it?” and for those who simply can’t afford tier 1 optics, the Toric is a fantastic compromise.  You might be wondering why the Leupold Mark 5 isn’t mentioned above and that is because I do not consider it to be a tier 1 optic, impressive for such a short package at just over 12″ but optically it struggles, the Mark 5 had worse CA in my testing and at half the price the Toric easily bested the Mark 5 optically, that being said the Mark 5 has my favorite turrets to date.

From left to right, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 and Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44:

About the author:

Bill has been around firearms since he was a young boy and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game.  Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist).  Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself.  Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsman.

Aug 112018
 

By Bill (Glassaholic)

Background:

The name Leupold, or more officially Leupold & Stevens, Inc., has been around for over 100 years, having been started by two German immigrants looking for a fresh start in the USA; however, it wasn’t until soon after the end of World War II that Leupold began building riflescopes when Marcus Leupold was on a hunt where his scope fogged up causing him to miss a deer, he decided he could build a better scope and since that time Leupold has steadily grown in the sport optics industry to being one of the most well-known names in the marketplace today.  A few years ago Leupold introduced the Mark 6 and Mark 8 lines of tactical scopes with the Mark 8 representing the pinnacle of Leupold’s optical/mechanical quality while the Mark 6 3-18×44 represents one of the lightest and shortest FFP scopes within its magnification range; however, the high cost of entry for these scopes as well as some initial tracking and turret issues kept them out of many shooters hands, and for all their innovation they never really caught on in the civilian marketplace.  For that reason, some have speculated Leupold engineers went to work on a model that would bridge the gap to the Mark 6/8 and be able to introduce them at more consumer-friendly price point, which brings us to the Mark 5HD introduced at SHOT Show 2018.  With two models, a standard 5-25×56 and an ultra short 3.6-18×44 Leupold hopes to regain some ground it has lost over the past few years as the industry has been changing quickly to accommodate the rise of long range shooting sports.  While there is a plethora of 5-25 and similar magnification scopes available from multiple manufacturers today, the Leupold is one of the lightest and comes at a price point below most of the alpha class scopes if you do not require illumination.  That being said, the scope that intrigued me the most was the 3.6-18×44 (hereafter referred to as the “Mark 5 Shorty”) offering especially since short and light scopes have always had an appeal for me.  Coming in at an MSRP starting at $2399.99 and a street price around $1800 this model is certainly not cheap; however, it is not easy to manufacturer ultra short designs and most of the Mark 5 Shorty’s competition comes in at a stiff price point of $3,000+!  Coming in at almost half the price of the competition while being one of the shortest and lightest scopes in its class (bested only by Leupold’s own Mark 6 3-18×44 in length and weight as of summer 2018) this scope has the potential to find its way on many rifles, the big question is how well it will perform optically and mechanically.

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Review Disclaimer

Please understand this is a “subjective” review as anything that involves the human eye as an instrument for measurement should be classified as “subjective”.  Asking someone “what is your favorite scope” or “who has the best glass” is almost akin to asking “what is the best color”, we can all give our opinions but at the end of the day, it is still our opinion and often times those opinions are further jaded by bias and we all have our bias’s whether we admit it or not.  I have been reviewing high end scopes since 2013 and am no stranger to what would be considered tier one, alpha and elite scopes, so it is with this knowledge and experience that I make an effort to give a fair and honest review.  Understand I am not a brand loyalist (someone who is committed to only using and promoting one brand), I look for the tools that will better serve me in my sport and if one brand makes a better tool then I don’t have a problem investigating the viability of that tool for my own personal use.  One final thought, we typically do not review multiple copies of the same scope and there can be sample variance from the same manufacturer so keep in mind this review focuses on one copy of this scope.

The Specs

One of the first things we look at (or ought to look at) when a scope is announced or captures our interest is the specifications.  This can give us information about the scope and its intended use, things like the magnification range, the front objective, FOV, size, weight, reticle and turret information can help inform us whether this particular scope would be a good candidate for our own personal use.  Often times I am asked on the forums, “what is the best scope for me” and I often respond with “what is your intended purpose: how far do you intend to shoot, what kind of rifle is it going on, will you only be shooting during the day or will you have low light situations, do you have a SFP or FFP preference, will you be shooting, paper, steel or game or a combination of all the above, do you care about how heavy the scope is?”  These types of questions or rather the answers to these questions help us understand better the environment the scope will be used for, which helps narrow down the choices from the vast array of options.  While this review focused on the Mark 5 Shorty I did have some other scopes available to provide a basis for comparison, here is a list of specs for comparison:

The scopes from left to right:  Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, Vortex PST II 3-15×44, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44

Reticle:

Over the past few years the conversations on the forums have shifted somewhat whenever the question is asked “what scope should I get”.  Of late, you can often find someone (myself included) recommending the poster consider the reticle first and then choose the scope.  This is a testament to both how reticles have changed as well as their importance in long range shooting and how good the scopes have improved regarding reliability and optical performance.  The new “craze” of late seems to be the .2 mil hash Christmas tree style reticles like the Kahles SKMR3, Minox MR4, Sig Sauer DEV-L, Vortex EBR-7B to name a few.  Unfortunately, Leupold doesn’t have any design like this other than their busy CCH reticle.  If a plain mil hash or Horus style reticles float your boat then Leupold has you covered, but if you prefer some of the more modern designs then you’ll be left wanting something more.  The scope I chose came with the Horus TReMoR3 reticle as I’ve wanted to experience a bit of what the hype is about with these busy reticles.

Image disclaimer: the below through the scope images are to give an idea for how the reticle looks only, please do not use through the scope images as an indication of IQ, the image is always sharper to the naked eye than it is for a camera due to lens, focus, position, vibration, etc.
  

Turrets:

Another very subjective opinion is turret feel and it seems that no two manufacturers have the same feel of turrets, nor does it seem that many can agree on “what is the best feel”, so if you prefer a heavy thunk, a light tick or a high pitched ting when you move between mils, this is going to have to be something that you experience yourself.  Personally, I do not get too caught up in turret “feel” or sound, what matters more to me is whether I can accurately and quickly spin my turrets to the position I need for the shot, and I’ve found I can do that with relative ease with most manufacturers turrets these days.  That being said, I can confidently say the Leupold Mark 5 has some of the best “feeling” turrets I’ve experienced yet – there is very little play (wiggle) between clicks and each click is very succinct with an audible tink-tink-tink.  One thing to mention is that Leupold went with an odd 10.5 mil per revolution turret, not a big deal for me but something to keep in mind.  Instead of a full locking mechanism where the whole turret is locked out unless you lift up, Leupold instead went for a locking zero so that you have a push button if you want to spin the turret up that you must press in, but once you start spinning the turret can move either way without further depression of the locking mechanism; likewise, this button will magically move flush with the turret after rotating past the first revolution as a mechanical indicator letting you know you’re past one revolution and there is an additional silver button on top of the turret that raises when moving into the third revolution.  This same unit also acts as your zero stop so if you spin all the way back, the button will lock when you’ve arrived at zero.  As an added bonus, you do have .5 mil to dial down after depressing the turret lock.

Tracking:

I’ll keep this short.  If you want to get a full field analysis of a scopes mechanical reliability I recommend you look for reviews from Lowlight on Snipers Hide, of course ILya of opticsthoughts.com and some others on the web who torture test their scopes for months on end.  Outside of some anomalies the majority of $1k+ scopes manufactured today have very good tracking, if your scope exhibits any anomalies (e.g. does not track) I recommend that you send it back to the manufacturer and request they fix it, any $1k+ scope manufactured today should track true, if it does not then it is a manufacturer’s defect and should be repaired.  I highly recommend you perform your own box test (https://www.snipershide.com/snipers-hide-scope-calibration/) to verify tracking after properly mounting your scope.

Ergonomics and design: 

Smooth parallax that goes down to 75y in marking but lower in actual use, quick throw knob, locking elevation, capped windage all make for one fine package in this short body scope.  The only odd anomaly is the 35mm tube and the windage zero is offset at the 11 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position on virtually every other scope out there, this does make it a little difficult to identify where true zero is, if you hold elevation it may not be that big of a deal as the knob will most likely always be covered by the cap, but if you spin elevation it might take a bit to get used to.  The most important ergonomic aspect of the Mark 5 Shorty is its length, at only 12.06” long this scope is easily classified as an “Ultra Short” design, a term coined by famed German scope manufacturer Schmidt & Bender and represents scopes with high magnification in a short design.  One aspect of an Ultra Short design is that it is much more difficult to build and build right which is why we typically don’t see short designs dominating the market.  The Mark 5 Shorty doesn’t just work as an ultra short design, it looks good doing it.

The parallax has set screws and can be reset which is a nice feature as I found it was off from factory, notice the set screw which allows user adjustability.

Instead of using a cantilever mount, the Badger riser rail along with ARC M10 24mm (low) rings put the scope at the perfect height for an AR flat top.

Eyebox:

There are some terms that are thrown around in the community that may have different meaning to different people, one of the most misunderstood terms is eyebox which is most often confused with the spec for eye relief and while having long eye relief can be a good thing it does not define how good of an eyebox a particular scope has, I have seen scopes with long eye relief that have a really poor eyebox and scopes with shorter eye relief that have a forgiving eyebox.  So, let me give my definition for eyebox which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope.  Something else that can affect eyebox performance is where you mount the scope and your cheekweld, if you mount too far forward or too far back you will experience a “tunneled” sight picture and if your scope is high or low and your cheeckpiece is not in the right position then once again you’re going to have a distorted sight picture making for a difficult eyebox.  So rule number one is getting the proper mount of your scope on your rifle, my recommended method for getting the proper position is to put your scope at its maximum magnification setting (this is where most scopes have their worst eyebox performance) and then place the scope in the rings without fully tightening, now, close your eyes and bring the rifle up to your natural hold, open your eyes, do you have a clear sight picture?  If you have to wiggle your head or adjust your position slightly, then you do not have the proper mounting position, move your scope forward or back and repeat the process.  You may also need to adjust your cheekpiece, if you have an adjustable one that’s pretty simple (if you do not then I recommend you get one or look into a good stock pack like the ones from Triad Tactical).  The goal is that every time you bring the scope up to your natural hold, the sight picture is spot on, if you do this then even scopes with a very finicky eyebox should perform decently for you.

With that in mind, how does the Mark 5 perform in regard to eyebox – for an ultra short design I would say it performs admirably well, keeping in mind that designing Ultra Short scopes and getting them to perform alongside their regular length peers is not an easy task which is usually reflected in the price of the scope; however, more recent trends have shown some newer designs like the Mark 5 Shorty which do not break the bank.

Optical Quality:

Probably the most subjective test there is of a scope is identifying optical quality; there are so many factors that go into a good optical formula that it’s hard to quantify, which is why there is no spec by any manufacturer that defines the quality of the image/glass, for that you have to rely on either looking through the scope in the poor lighting of a store or if you’re lucky, find a store that will allow you to take multiple scopes outside on a stable mount and look through them side by side in good lighting and then go back right after sun set and ask to look through them again because I have found that many scopes perform well in good lighting conditions, but when the light gets low, you begin to see a separation of quality.

Things I look for in a scope for optical quality are resolution, color, contrast, control of CA and low light performance.  If a scope performs well in all these areas then I consider it to have excellent IQ, if it suffers in one area but excels at others I am usually okay with that, but if it suffers in two or more than it really needs to be a niche scope for me to want to keep it and/or recommend it.  I determine optical quality by first setting up the scope properly for the diopter and parallax and then conduct a combination of tests both near and far, as well as perform an analysis at 100 yards using a modified Snellen eye chart as well as a High/Low Contrast target.  However, keep in mind that atmospheric conditions can affect the outcome of any tests not performed in controlled environments, I do not have access to these environments, so I do the best I can with the conditions nature provides.  I also try to compare the review scope(s) to another that I am confident in its optical performance as well as a few other scopes of similar design to get an idea of overall performance.  One final note, most of the time I only review one scope and there can be sample variation so if you hear of everyone else raving about the quality of their scopes (same model) and yours just does not perform, it may be wise to send your scope in to the manufacturer to test and adjust as necessary.

For this review the Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44 was put up against a Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, a Vortex PST II 3-15×44, a Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50 and a Tract Toric 4-20×50.

  • Resolution – upon initial review I was fairly impressed with the Mark 5 Shorty and it wasn’t until I started comparing side by side with the other scopes that I realized the resolution fell a bit short, that’s not to say the Leupold was bad, it was that the other scopes performed better. Looking at detail like blades of grass, grain in wood, rocks and dirt revealed the Leupold was not as sharp as the other scopes, this was also apparent in the Snellen eye chart test.
    S&B Ultra Short > Bushnell LRHS = Tract Toric > Vortex PST II > Leupold Mark 5
  • Contrast – Contrast and resolution kind of go hand in hand; however, contrast can be another term that might be misunderstood so let me define – the ability of the scope to differentiate between smaller and smaller details of more and more nearly similar tonal value (this was pulled, in part, from an excellent article on Luminous-Landscape https://luminous-landscape.com/understanding-lens-contrast/). Using the contrast chart and determining detail in distant objects you begin to get a feel for “how much” detail a scope provides.  There were situations where I felt the Leupold image was a bit more washed out than the others which reduced contrast, I got the feeling that whatever Leupold engineers did to improve low light performance it came with a less than optimal performance hit to daytime contrast.
    S&B Ultra Short => Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric > Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II
  • Color – in recent years I have found more and more scopes getting better at color, whether improvements in multi-coating or better manufacturing techniques I’m not certain but it is nice to see this improvement.
    S&B Ultra Short > Bushnell LRHS = Tract Toric > Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II
  • CA – another hotly debated topic is chromatic aberration which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target; however, Ilya has mentioned “It is not terribly critical for aiming, but it is important for observation and image fidelity during twilight before your eye transitions into scotopic vision.”
    S&B Ultra Short > Vortex PST II > Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric => Leupold Mark 5
  • Low Light – My testing takes into account all the above but in low light settings, usually after the sun sets and into where it almost gets too dark to see. In these conditions I like to set my scopes at 12x to take advantage of the exit pupil with fading light while still providing enough magnification to stress the limits of the scope.  The amazing thing here is that all scopes performed admirably well in low light, contrast this from scopes I reviewed 5 years ago and the “budget” scopes then just couldn’t cut it while today’s scopes seem to be built for low light performance.  I had to look long and hard and minute details in fading light to truly discern which scopes performed better, when not side by side it would be very difficult indeed to determine which, if any, performed better.
    S&B Ultra Short = Tract Toric > Bushnell LRHS = Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II

The below image shows an example of heavy CA which can be seen in high contrast situations (black to white transition).

Illumination:

In the 3.6-18×44 the only reticle that offers illumination is the TMR.  I opted for the Tremor3 so no illumination option unfortunately (oddly enough the Mark 5 5-25×56 does offer an illuminated Tremor3), but with close to $600 for the illumination option from Leupold when most manufactures offer it as standard, I do not see many buyers going this route.

The Kahles K318i:

As I was wrapping up this review a Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 showed up at my door, this scope is the closest in regard to size and magnification.  While I didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time comparing the Leupold Shorty with the Kahles K318i my experience alongside the other scopes gave me a good enough basis from which to say that the Kahles K318i does indeed perform better optically than the Mark 5 3.6-18×44; however, as mentioned before this comes at a cost of well over $1000 more than the Leupold albeit with no illumination for the Leupold, and at close to $600 that would close the gap considerably between these two scopes.  Truth be told, I like the turret feel better than the Kahles as well as the overall build is very much on par with Kahles.

The below image shows the difference between the matte black of the Leupold and the reflective anodized black of the Kahles.

The below image shows the turret size of the Leupold (left) to the Kahles (right).

The size of these two scopes are very close

Conclusion:

The fit and finish of this scope is top tier, I am highly impressed with the overall package with a truly matte black finish where many other scopes are an anodized black – this scope will not be reflecting light, the addition of the semi-flush scope caps and removable quick throw lever and sunshade are nice touches to complete the ensemble.  The short, compact size and weight of the Mark 5 3.6-18×44 makes this an ideal scope for an AR platform or covert style build, that alone along with Leupold’s reputation will earn sales for this optic simply because the competition is so scarce at this price point.  Are there better scopes, yes, are there cheaper scopes that perform better in certain situations, yes, but none of those scopes meet the same size parameter as the Mark 5 3.6-18×44.  Sure, it has a few issues with CA and overall resolution but with it being as short as it is and having the excellent turrets it has, this will more than make up for its shortcomings for many shooters.  If Leupold came out with a Christmas tree style reticle and brought down the high premium for illumination, this scope would be an even bigger seller.  For optical purists looking for the best glass this scope will undoubtedly not meet your requirements, but the only scopes that do at this time run more than $3k, for those who are moving up where the Mark 5 is an upgrade to an existing scope I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

About the author:

Bill has been shooting since the early 80’s and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game.  Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist).  Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself.  Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsmen.