Feb 212019
 

Les (Jim) Fischer
BigJimFish
Written: Sept 9, 2018

Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH on a Mesa Precision arms Crux with Bobro LabX rings

Table of Contents:

– Background
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Reticle
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
– Summary and Conclusion
-Upcoming Models and Changes
– Testing Methodology:  Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant
-Testing Methodology:  Comparative Optical Evaluation

Background:

            Sightron is best known in the target shooting community for producing solid no frills scopes at prices lower than comparable competitors. Sightron has always appeared to be low on advertising expenditures and behind the curve on features, but their quality, price, and customer service has been good.

A few years ago I spent a long time at the Sightron booth talking to one of their reps about the features necessary for precision rifle shooting, price points, where I saw gaps in the market, and why none of their current products did what I wanted them to do. It felt like a productive conversation. I found out some useful information about what they thought it would cost them to do this or that and I hope they found it useful as well. I remember specifically focusing on mid range FFP mil/mil stuff around $1k and low cost 2FP mil/mil stuff. They have since added the mid range FFP mil/mil scope in this review, a higher cost FFP mil/mil ED offering, and will soon be doing some lower cost FFP mil/mil stuff as well. Maybe I even had something to do with this. Either way, they now have some offerings that I find interesting.

Unboxing and Physical Description:

            The Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH is a little surprising when it comes to the extras in the box. Instead of the near ubiquitous plastic scope caps, it includes a sunshade, scopecote, and lens cloth. It is both different than what I expected and also a bit more. As far as documentation goes, the SIII includes a manual that appears to be generic to all Sightron scopes and an insert specific to this model which has a dimensioned diagram of the reticle and some mil equations. I was able to give myself a nice big pat on the back for thoroughness by finding the mil equations in the insert and one of the tables in the booklet to be in error. I’ll bet it was a fun time in the office when that memo came rolling through. I suspect I was the only party involved who enjoyed himself. A party of one is still a party though, right? In any case, the equation in the insert is fixed now and hopefully the table in the manual is being updated as well.

The scope itself looks and feels very clean. It is a Japanese produced product and has the top shelf fit and finish you generally see in products coming out of Japan. The knobs are just 5 mils per turn instead of the more common 10 mils, but feel very good. They are neither squishy nor those ones that are so stiff its difficult to click just one increment . Similarly, the stiffness on the parallax and fast focus eye piece are also quite pleasing. The styling is sort of hunter with just a slight nod to tactical in the knurled and uncapped adjustments. The optic is relatively long at 14.96″, narrow with a 50mm objective, and light at 23.8 oz. These factors, along with the 4x erector ratio and the simple objective lens group I have observed indicate a pretty conservative optical design. This is not surprising given how economical this optic is relative to others with similar optical and production quality. It should also work out very well when it comes to the optical performance later on in the testing. In keeping with the simple theme, the model is un-illuminated and has no zero stop or lock on the adjustments, though the zero can be reset.

The markings on the knobs must have been something of a debate within Sightron because, in addition the included knobs, there are a few you can buy aftermarket with better markings. The included knobs are marked in a not so contrasty gold script every 5 clicks with, unaccountably, the number of clicks rather than any actual angular dimension. You can partially remedy this with a gold sharpie by adding a decimal point to make the clicks mils instead. The properly done what they call “tactical knobs” use a higher visibility white script and are labeled in mils every .5 mils. The elevation on those knobs also has additional lines for other turns and the windage is marked to 2.5 mils R or L. I believe this scope will fit the 74007 knob that has markings up to 15 mils as well as the listed 74006 one which has markings only to 10 mils. With a 20MOA base, this scope may actually have slightly more than 15mil of travel depending on your rifle’s zero. Evidently, the argument about which knobs to include in the box was won by someone who has never shot at distances requiring significant drop compensation – perhaps it was our trigonomically challenged manual writer. Either way, the properly marked knobs are $50 each so… probably sharpie.

Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH Unboxing

Reticle:

            There are not a lot of options in general around Sightron’s SIII front focal plane line. Actually, there are exactly two, mil or MOA. Both the mil and MOA versions have a reticle matched to their adjustments and only that one reticle. In both cases these reticles are quite simple. The mil version has no labels, but features markings at 1 mil and .5 mil increments with .25 mil markings for the first mil and the target dot type floating center that seems to be the current trend for whatever reason. The reticle is itself on the fine side of spectrum in terms line thickness. I am, and have always been, in favor of fine reticles. I have found them to be more precise, a bit faster, and far more comfortable. Thick caterpillar reticles always give me the same feeling as a gnat flying around my head. I just want to swat them out of my view. Overall, there is really nothing special about the SIII’s mil reticle but also nothing particularly problematic. It is really a pretty good design for broad appeal. I don’t think anybody will hate it, but it is also not going to be anybody’s favorite and that is pretty much how I feel about it as well.

In testing, the reticle showed no deviation in size from the correct dimensions and also showed no can’t relative to the adjustments. So spot on with that.

Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH reticle on an optical test pattern

Comparative Optical Evaluation:

            The Sightron SIII arrived earlier this year than any of the other test scopes and coincided perfectly with the first of the two review rifles for the year, the Kelbly Atlas Tactical and Mesa Precision Arms Crux. The timing was quite fortuitous as the SIII has a higher magnification than any of my personal scopes and also has a nice fine reticle. These two characteristics are of great importance for accuracy testing rifles. This gave me a great opportunity to have a lot of time behind the optic before any of the systematic optical and mechanical testing. I was quite pleased with the SIII’s performance during this rifle testing. In particular, it struck me as very good optically, resolving impacts with such alacrity that my estimations of group sizes while firing strings proved to be spot on.

For optical comparisons to this Sightron SIII, I had the other scopes in this series of sub $1k FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope review, the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 mm, and Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, as well as two that have been used as comparisons by me in previous reviews for context, the Leupold Mk 6 3-18×44 and my old (and now discontinued) Zeiss conquest 4.5-14×44. All of these scopes were lined up together on a 5 slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now.

I have never before had a set of 5 scopes with such generally close optical performance. Usually, scopes somewhat sort themselves into performance tiers with higher tier scopes being better than lower tier scopes in pretty much all characteristics. That was not even remotely the case with this lineup. No scope was always first or last when evaluating particular performance parameters and the order of the scopes rankings changed with pretty much every particular parameter being evaluated.  That being said, the Sightron SIII was, on balance, the best. It particularly excelled when it came to resolution, contrast, stray light handling, low light performance, and, unsurprisingly given its conservative design, depth of field. With regard to the eyebox, it was more middle of the pack, though it did not feel tight, cramped, or finicky, but rather seemed large enough. Similarly, it was close to average in chromatic aberration, though the field all performed well in this regard. The only parameter where the SIII’s performance was sub-average for the group was in field of view. I did not notice any particular favor given to this or that end of the spectrum by the SIII such as is the way some scopes tend to favor greens or reds. Instead, the SIII seemed pretty balanced.

To some extent, I expected the SIII to have the best overall optical performance. It fits with the narrative of few features and high quality that I was expecting by reputation. To me, the SIII is what you get when you set out to see just how low cost you can make something of a high standard and still have what you need to shoot long range. You use a simple optical design and turrets, drop some features like illumination, and streamline the distribution by removing virtually all the options, variations, and most of the marketing budget. What you would expect would be excellent performance for the price and that is what the SIII delivers optically.

Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:

            As mentioned in the unboxing section, the SIII features simple 5 mil per turn adjustment knobs with no zero stop or turn indicator and a less than ideal marking scheme, but with great feel. The zero setting on these knobs is done with a single torx screw on top. Testing the accuracy of these adjustments was done in accordance with the methodology section detailed at the end of this review. This methodology was followed on all the scopes this year and has been in use for a few years now.

In testing, the adjustments deviated in the following ways and degrees:

Adjusting impact up from optical center, they were accurate to 4.0 mils.

At 5.0 mils on target the adjustments read 4.9 mils.

At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.

At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.

The scope adjusts up to 12.7 mils on the target, at which point the adjustments are at 12.4 mils. There was no continued movement of the adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.

Adjusting down from center the scope was accurate to 2 mils.

At 3 mils on the target the adjustments read 2.9 mils.

At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.

At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.

At 14.0 mils on target the adjustments read 13.6 mils.

The scope adjusts down to 15.0 mils on the target at which point the adjustments are at 14.7 mils. There was no continued movement of the adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.

The windage varied similarly to elevation measuring 4.0 mils on the target at 3.9 mils on the adjustments each way.

This tracking was repeatable and it returned to zero with no problems. Tracking on windage and elevation was properly independent. No zero shift was affected by power change, parallax change, or diopter change. For those wondering, it is not unusual to have more adjustment on one side of optical center than on the other. Though the tube will have the same amount of room on both sides of center, other factors, such as the return spring or turret housing, often limit travel in one or the other direction.

Getting adjustments to exactly match the correct magnitude is one of the most difficult aspects of scope manufacture. As such, most scopes show deviation to some degree measurable with my equipment. The average deviation, based on my past tests, is about 1% at 10 mils. The SIII was a good bit above this, deviating 3% at 10 mils. The effect of this on the shooter is that you need to correct your estimated Ballistic table for it. If you print tables from online calculators, such as I do, you can tailor each entry to reflect the scopes exact deviation at that point. In the case of smartphone type ballistic computing applications, some now include an input to allow for deviations, usually linear,  arising from the scope. Most of the time scopes do not deviate entirely linearly, however. Scopes usually deviate by more the further from center the adjustment moves, as is the case with this one. In the end, most app-based ballistic calculators often struggle both with this correction as well as with integrating actual data proven in the field with the calculator’s estimations. At some point I should probably do a whole review set on ballistic calculators, but that is not today’s project.

The takeaway from the mechanical testing is that the SIII tracks cleanly and repeatably, but has a bit more deviation than I would expect. This will mean more correction to ballistic tables than is typical. It should also be mentioned that each SIII example should not be expected to vary by the same amount with regard to the magnitude of the deviation in the adjustments and all scopes are like this. All scopes are typically designed to have no deviation but slight lens positioning differences from piece to piece result in deviation from the design specs.

Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH during mechanical testing

Summary and Conclusion:

            Quite frankly, this year’s set of sub $1k ffp mil/mil precision optics has proven much better than I expected. A few years ago you really couldn’t get the features necessary to shoot long range in an optic for under $1.2k and I really didn’t like any of the options until almost $2k. I like this Sightron though and I like some of the other sub $1k options as well. Shooters now have some real viable and meaningful choices in long range precision optics for a budget. As for that budget, the street price on this Sightron varies significantly from outlet to outlet, but the shooter should find it for well below $1k.

I think the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH represents a low featured but well manufactured precision rifle scope. It is the best optically that I have tested and is significantly better than I would expect from a scope at that price. Similarly, I expect it too be pretty durable as the production line it comes from has a long history of durability and longevity. Sightron also has a good reputation for backing their products should anything go amiss. The SIII’s features are limited, though, and the adjustments are neither 10 mils per turn nor very well marked unless you spend the $50 for the aftermarket turrets. It is also not illuminated. Lastly, the 3% deviation in adjustments at 10 mils from the example I have would suggest that one element of keeping costs low is the allowance of wider tolerances in manufacture than average, specifically in the manual labor of lens positioning that accounts for a large amount of manufacturing cost. This does mean more correction of data by the end user.

All told, I am certain that the package Sightron has put together here will be found compelling by many and develop a significant following. I know I am quite taken with it.

Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:

Pros:
– Exceptional optics for the cost in almost every aspect
– Lightweight
– Nice extras with sunshade and scopecote
– Good adjustment range
– All the knobs feel good (sorry, pun not avoided)
– Reticle is acceptable and sized properly
– Tracks repeatably with no zero shifts
– Good warranty and reputation

Cons:
– Stripped features, 5mil/turn, no illumination, no turn indicator, low erector ratio
– Poorly labeled adjustments unless you buy aftermarket
– The tested example had more deviation than average on adjustments
– Manual is lacking and contains basic errors

Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH in Bobro dual lever mount on Kelbly Atlas rifle

Upcoming Models and Changes:

            In the process of doing this review and communicating back and forth with Sightron, I learned of some upcoming features and models that I think will be of interest to readers of this review. As I mentioned before, not long ago Sightron didn’t make anything that was featured properly for long range shooting and this model represented something of a first step into that feature set. Evidently, it went well as Sightron is coming up with some more offerings in that direction as well as improving this and other existing models.

Specifically, Sightron is giving the SIII and SV zero stops and coming out with an even lower cost ($699 mspr) FFP mil/mil offering in the S-Tac line which will be a first in that price range to offer a zero stop. The zero stop on the SIII and S-Tac is of an entirely new design that is remarkably simple, inexpensive to manufacture, and also very flexible and easy to use. Simply put, it is a threaded collar that you just snug up under the elevation knob at the zero point preventing it from going lower in the way that cumbersome shim systems worked but without the cumbersome mess. Unlike pin type systems, this can also be set a couple tenths below zero if you want a little wiggle room. In that way, it is better than many more complex zero stop systems on scopes costing many thousands of dollars. It is also very easy to understand, so I don’t think anybody will get confused setting it as often has happened on other systems. In addition to the zero stops, Sightron will be adding more, and more refined, reticle choices to some of its models.

I expect to have additional details on all of this in this years ShotShow reporting. For now, here is a look at Sightron’s simple and effective zero stop concept.

Sightron’s new zero stop concept on an upcoming S-Tac mil/mil FFP scope

Testing Methodology:  Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant

            When testing scope adjustments, I use the adjustable V-block on the right of the test rig to first center the erector. Approximately .2 or so mil of deviation is allowed from center in the erector as it is difficult to do better than this because the adjustable V-block has some play in it. The erector can be centered with the scope mounted or not mounted. If it started unmounted, I mount it after centering. I next set the zero stop (on scopes with such a feature) to this centered erector and attach the optic to the rail on the left side of the test rig.

Mechanical testing apparatus and target

            The three fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely at an 8’x3′ Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds downrange as measured by a quality fiberglass tape measure. The target is also trued to vertical with a bubble level. The reticle is aimed such that its centerline is perfectly aligned with the centerline of the target and it is vertically centered on the 0 mil elevation line.

            The CATS target is graduated in both mils and true MOA and calibrated for 100 yards. The target is mounted upside-down on a target backer designed specifically for this purpose as the target was designed to be fired at rather than being used in conjunction with a stationary scope. (Since up for bullet impact means down for reticle movement on the target, the inversion is necessary.) With the three bolts tightened on the test rig head, the deflection of the rig is about .1 mil under the force required to move adjustments. The rig immediately returns to zero when the force is removed. It is a very solid, very precise test platform. These bolts allow the scope to be precisely positioned such that its reticle is perfectly aligned with the test target prior to moving the adjustments. Each click of movement in the scope adjustments moves the reticle on the target and this can observed by the tester as it actually happens during the test:  it’s quite a lot of fun if you are a bit of a nerd like I am! After properly setting the parallax to the target (head bob method) and diopter (after the parallax), I move the elevation adjustment though the range from erector center until it stops, making note every 5 mils of adjustment dialed of any deviation in the position of the reticle on the target relative to where it should be and also making note of the total travel and any excess travel in the elevation knob after the reticle stops moving but before the knob stops. At the extent of this travel I can also determine the cant of the reticle by measuring how far off of the target centerline the reticle has moved. I next reverse the adjustment process and go back down to zero. This is done several times to verify consistency with any notes taken of changes. After testing the elevation adjustments in this manner, the windage adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same target and basically the same method. The elevation and windage are then tested in conjunction with one another by making a large box 8 mil wide and as tall as the adjustments will allow. If the scope is one where it is easy to do so (not a pin type zero stop model), I next re-align the test rig to point the scope at the bottom of the target and test the elevation in the other direction for tracking and range. After concluding the testing of adjustments, I also test the reticle size calibration. This is done quite easily on this same target by comparing the reticle markings to those on the target.

            Testing a single scope of a given model from a given manufacturer, which is really all that is feasible, is not meant to be indicative of all scopes from that maker. Accuracy of adjustments, reticle size, and cant will differ from scope to scope. After testing a number of scopes, I have a few theories as to why. As designed on paper, I doubt that any decent scope has flaws resulting in inaccurate clicks in the center of the adjustment range. Similarly, I expect few scopes are designed with inaccurate reticle sizes (and I don’t even know how you would go about designing a canted reticle as the reticle is etched on a round piece of glass and cant simply results from it being rotated incorrectly when positioned). However, ideal designs aside, during scope assembly the lenses are positioned by hand and will be off by this much or that much. This deviation in lens position from design spec can cause the reticle size or adjustment magnitude to be incorrect and, I believe, is the reason for these problems in most scopes. Every scope maker is going to have a maximum acceptable amount of deviation from spec that is acceptable to them and I very much doubt they would be willing to tell you what this number is, or better yet, what the standard of deviation is. The tighter the tolerance, the better from the standpoint of the buyer, but also the longer average time it will take to assemble a scope and, therefore, the higher the cost. Assembly time is a major cost in scope manufacture. It is actually the reason that those S&B 1-8x short dots took years to make it to market. Tolerances are a particular concern for scopes that have high magnification ratios and also for those that are short in length. Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy. This should make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test purchased scopes that have these desirable attributes, as manufacturers will face greater pressure on these types to allow looser standards. If you test your scope and find it lacking, I expect that you will not have too much difficulty in convincing a maker with a reputation for good customer service to remedy it:  squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that. Remember that some deviations, say a scope’s adjustments being 1% too large or small, are easy to adjust for in ballistic software, whereas others, a large reticle cant for instance, are not.

            Before I leave adjustments, reticle size, and reticle cant, I will give you some general trends I have noticed so far. The average adjustment deviation seems to vary on many models with distance from optical center. This is a good endorsement for a 20 MOA base, as it will keep you closer to center for longer. The average deviation for a scope’s elevation seems to be about .1% at 10 mils. Reticle size deviation is sometimes found to vary with adjustments so that both the reticle and adjustments are off in the same way and with similar magnitude. This makes them agree with each other when it comes to follow up shots. I expect this is caused by the error in objective lens position affecting both the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error, it has been of this variety, but fewer scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off. Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary in magnitude as you move from erector center although adjustment deviation often does. The mean amount of reticle error is less than .05%. Reticle cant mean is about .05 degrees. Reticle cant, it should be noted, affects the shooter as a function of calculated drop and can easily get lost in the windage read. As an example, a 1 degree cant equates to about 21 cm at 1000 meters with a 168 gr .308 load that drops 12.1 mil at that distance. That is a lot of drop, and a windage misread of 1 mph is of substantially greater magnitude (more than 34 cm) than our example reticle cant-induced error. This type of calculation should be kept in mind when examining all mechanical and optical deviations in a given scope:  a deviation is really only important if it is of a magnitude similar to the deviations expected to be introduced by they shooter, conditions, rifle, and ammunition. Lastly, the proliferation of “humbler” type testing units such as mine appears to have resulted in scope companies improving their QC standards. I see less deviation in products now then a few years ago.

Testing Methodology:  Comparative Optical Evaluation

            The goal of my optical performance evaluation is NOT to attempt to establish some sort of objective ranking system. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it is notoriously difficult to measure optics in an objective and quantifiable way. Tools, such as MTF plots, have been devised for that purpose, primarily by the photography business. Use of such tools for measuring rifle scopes is complicated by the fact that scopes do not have any image recording function and therefore a camera must be used in conjunction with the scope. Those who have taken through-the-scope pictures will understand the image to image variance in quality and the ridiculousness of attempting to determine quality of the scope via images so obtained.  Beyond the difficulty of applying objective and quantifiable tools from the photography industry to rifle scopes, additional difficulties are encountered in the duplication of repeatable and meaningful test conditions. Rifle scopes are designed to be used primarily outside, in natural lighting, and over substantial distances. Natural lighting conditions are not amenable to repeat performances. This is especially true if you live in central Ohio, as I do. Without repeatable conditions, analysis tools have no value, as the conditions are a primary factor in the performance of the optic. Lastly, the analysis of any data gathered, even if such meaningful data were gathered, would not be without additional difficulties. It is not immediately obvious which aspects of optical performance, such as resolution, color rendition, contrast, curvature of field, distortion, and chromatic aberration, should be considered of greater or lesser importance. For such analysis to have great value, not only would a ranking of optical aspects be in order, but a compelling and decisive formula would have to be devised to quantitatively weigh the relative merits of the different aspects. Suffice it to say, I have neither the desire nor the resources to embark on such a multi-million dollar project and, further, I expect it would be a failure anyway as, in the end no agreement will be reached on the relative weights of different factors in analysis.

            The goal of my optical performance evaluation is instead to help the reader get a sense of the personality of a particular optic. Much of the testing documents the particular impressions each optic makes on the tester. An example of this might be a scope with a particularly poor eyebox behind which the user notices he just can’t seem to get to a point where the whole image is clear. Likewise, a scope might jump out to the tester as having a very bad chromatic aberration problem that makes it difficult to see things clearly as everything is fringed with odd colors. Often these personality quirks mean more to the users’ experience than any particular magnitude of resolution number would. My testing seeks to document the experience of using a particular scope in such a way that the reader will form an impression similar to that of the tester with regard to like or dislike and will be aware of the reasons for that impression.

            The central technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test heads designed for my humbler apparatus consists of five V-blocks of which four are adjustable.  This allows each of the four scopes on the adjustable blocks to be aimed such that they are collinear with the fifth. For the majority of the testing, each scope is then set to the same power (the highest power shared by all as a rule). Though power numbers are by no means accurately marked, an approximation will be obtained. Each scope will have the diopter individually adjusted by the tester, the adjustments centered optically, and the parallax set. A variety of targets, including both natural backdrops and optical test targets, will be observed through the plurality of optics with the parallax being adjusted for each optic at each target. A variety of lighting conditions over a variety of days will be utilized. Specific notes are made regarding:  resolution, color rendition, contrast, field of view, edge to edge quality, light transmission, pincushion and barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, tunneling, depth of field, eyebox, stray light handling, and optical flare. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optic’s performance and explains the reasons why.

Comparative optical testing of this years sub $1k precision rifle scopes behind the adjustable v-block

Nov 232018
 

If you have been following my random ramblings for any length of time, you will note that my preferred mode of operation is to pick a particular configuration and approximate price range and compare a good number of scopes that fit those two criteria side by side.

This is not going to be one of those.

The sorta undisputed king of the tactical hill in the 1-8x scope world in the last year or two was Minox ZP8.  March 1-8×24 with side focus has been out for a bit, but it seems to appeal to a somewhat different customer.  Last year, Nightforce released their 1-8×24 ATACR going largely after the same crowd.  S&B now also has their FFP/DFP 1-8x scope and I have a suspicion some other companies are going to join the fray.  I intend to gloss over this group almost entirely since I do not see myself spending in the neighborhood of $3k for a low power variable optic (LPVO).  Do not get me wrong, these are excellent design, but somehow it is easier for me to spend that kind of money on a long range precision scope and even that is getting to be a more difficult decision as mid-range stuff keeps getting better.  Now, as we get into the sub-$2k range, I sorta perk up.  I really want to be in the $1k range, but I am willing to pay a little more if it gets me a little more.  When I set out to put this article together, I wanted to explore this $1k to $2k range and since I was not able to get my hands on everything I wanted, I suspect I will revisit it again in 2019.

I saw the new March Shorty 1-8×24 at SHOT and thought it was an interesting idea.  The guys from March were adventurous enough to loan me one. I have a lot of mileage with their larger 1-8×24 that has side-focus, so the Shorty without the side-focus was really interesting to look at.  I am really impressed by March engineering, although there are some questionable decision there from product configuration standpoint (in other words I am very impressed with what the technical people at Deon accomplished, while being a little mystified by some marketing driven decisions).

Same for the GPOTAC 1-8×24 from German Precision Optics.  They really should know better than letting me loose on a new product, but I think that bravery will ultimately work out well for them.  I think they’ve got a good thing going there. As always, I have some things to complain about, but overall, it is a very solid scope.

Burris XTR II 1-8×24 has been my go to scope in this category since I can actually afford it, so I added it to the mix.


HiLux CMR8 is a lot less expensive, but I have it, so while it does not really belong in this group, it was interesting to see how it fits in.  I also had Hawke Frontier 1-6×24 on hand, so you will see it in some reticle pictures. It is a SFP scope, so it is an entirely different animal, but it is an exceptionally nice scope for the money and it was useful to have it as sort of a counterpoint: “if you do not need FFP, you can save some money” sort of thing.

Nightforce essentially told me to go F myself when I asked them for a loaner of the NX8.  That was unfortunate since it would have been interesting to test next to the March. Usually, a manufacturer tells me to take a hike if they are afraid of bad publicity, implying there is something wrong with the product. However, I am not aware of any major NX8 issues, and I did have a brief hands on with it on someone else’s gun. I will have to get my hands on one for a thorough review at some point via other means.

I am familiar with the Trijicon Accupower and PA Platinum, which is why you see them in the table below, but I did not have them on hand for this comparison.  With the PA, they have a new reticle I was impressed with coming out (Griffin Mil), so I will secure one when it is available. Accupower is not my favourite design, so I am not going to spend more time on it.

 

Burris XTR II 1-8×24 Trijicon Accupower 1-8×28 HiLux CMR8 1-8×26 Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (new) GPO TAC 1-8×24

(new)

PA Platinum 1-8×24 March 1-8×24 “Shorty”
Length, in 10.75 10.8 10 8.75 10.7 10.8 8.4
Weight, oz 24.3 25 22 17 19 26.45 17.1
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 34mm 34mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 4 – 3.5 4 – 3.9 4 3.75 3.54 3.98 – 3.83 3.4 – 3.9
FOV, ft@1000yards 105 – 12.5 109 – 13.1 114.8 – 14.5 106 – 13 107 – 13 105.8 – 13.25 105.8 – 13.2
Exit Pupil 12 – 3 11.8 – 3.5 16.6 – 3.2 7.9 – 3 12 – 3 11.7 – 3 9.6 – 3
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.2 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adjustment per turn 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad
Adjustment range 30 mrad 29.6 mrad 30 mrad 29 mrad 56 mrad
Zero Stop Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP
Price $1200 $1400 $700 $1800 $1700 $1300 $1980

 

Looking at the specs, NX8 and March Shorty really stand out for their compact size and light weight, although GPOTAC is also pretty good with weight.  Other than March and CMR8, all the other scopes here are made in Japan, buy LOW. I am guessing the NX8 may have some US assembly in it. GPO adds the illumination module to their scopes in Germany.  March is made by Deon in Japan and CMR8 is a HiLux product made in their factory in China.

Right off hand, CMR8 is not as good optically as the rest of these.  It is pretty decent for the money though. I mostly added it in to show what you get for your money.  I will say that mechanically, CMR8 is working quite well including a stint on my 458 SOCOM that has killed a few scopes here and there.  Generally speaking, all of the scopes here were tested on a 5.56 chambered AR-15.




Before I talk about each individual design, I would like to spend some time on reticles.  I mounted the scopes on a tripod and took some pictures through them. The pictures are handheld with a cellphone, so they are not designed to tell you anything about image quality.  The church in the background is more than 700 yards away. They are all variations on “primary aiming point inside a circle” theme which I happen to like. CMR8 has a floating dot and a mrad grid inside a circle along with some choke style rangefinders around it.  The whole arrangement turned out a little busier than I would have liked, but I like it conceptually and if I had a chance to re-design it, I’d keep the grid, but make it thinner.

March has two concentric circles (they also have another reticle that has only one circle) and an aiming crosshair inside the smaller circle along with the a mil-scale outside it.  For some inexplicable reason, the lines in the primary aiming crosshair are quite thick. I am guessing it has something to do with how they illuminate it, but in practice, I would have preferred a small floating crosshair or a dot inside the circle (the scope I used had FMC-2 reticle; their FMC1 has liens that are twice thinner, so the reticle I would want is a combination of the two: FMC-2 circles with FMC-1 crosshair).  One of the reasons to get a LPV scope that goes up to 8x is to extend the engagement distance a bit, so a smallish primary aiming point is a good idea. Basically, you want the circle for speed and the dot or crosshair for precision. The reticle in the GPO hets the precision part right, but the circle is fairly small (it is a little hard to see in the 8x picture below, but in real life it is nicely visible at higher mags). GPO’s illumination is continuously variable, so it is excellent in low light.  On the scope I had it did not get very bright (I played with a prototype illumination module that did not get as bright as production models).  XTR II reticle is very well done in terms of line thicknesses and is the only design here that has a BDC reticle inside a circle. I would prefer a mrad-based design, but it works well enough (as I said this is sort of my reference standard in this category in terms of bang for the buck).

Here is what they look like side by side.  With CMR8, the larger circle is outside the FOV at 8x which I like.  With March, I think the two circles inside the FOV at 8x is a bit much, but the reticle is quick to use and very visible without without illumination.  Other than the thickness of the center crosshair, I really like this reticle. Also note the tapered bars that really help as you go down in magnification.  

The next picture below shows the same four scopes at 4x, 5x and 6x.  I am also showing the reticle of the SFP Hawke Frontier for comparison.  On the CMR8, the large outer circle gets into the FOV and blocks quite a bit of it.  With March, the tapered bars start looking more prominent, but the dual circle center arrangement looks to be about the right size for quick target engagement.  GPOTAC reticle again looks thinner in the picture than it really is, but in general, as you go down in magnification, it has to rely more on illumination than the other scopes here. XTR II’s 10 mrad circle remains a really good compromise between precision and speed.

As you go further down in magnification, the GPO scope becomes harder to use without illumination. I talked to them about it and the basically said that the 1-8x is more of a general purpose design, while the 1-6x is going to be a little more optimized for speed and AR use with a bolder reticle.  Honestly, I think they should add some other reticle options to the 1-8x, but even with the pre-production illumination module it worked pretty well for me in anything but the brightest light, so I am not going to complain too much. WIth March, as you get to 1x you begin to really see why those tapered bars are there.  Wisely, the guys at March kept the bars from going all the way to the edge on 1x. That leaves the aiming structure floating in the center and it really works well. With CMR8, that big outer circle keep the reticle visible, but I still think it is thicker than it should be.  Also, keep in mind that the XTR II reticle is perfectly usable without illumination on 1x; much more so than the picture indicates.

Now, let’s talk a little about how these scopes compare in other ways.  First of all, I have not spent a whole lot of time checking tracking. I did some minimal elevation tracking checks and they all seemed to do fine.  Generally, with scopes of this type, I prefer to not mess with the turrets, so I want them either covered or locking, which all of these were, except for March.  The Shorty came with March’s excellent low profile tactical knobs. These are some of my favourite turrets, but I think they are a little out of place on this scope. I would feel more secure with a covered design. I brought this up with my March contact, but he disagreed and said that he has never heard of their turrets being bumped.  Personally, I think March marketing people needs to spend more time with 3-Gunners and other AR people. That would give them a better grasp of this side of the market.

All of the scopes here stayed zeroed once zeroed and I really have no complaints about the quality and feel of the physical controls.  Subjectively, March has the crispest feel to the mechanics here, but I have always liked how March does the mechanics, so there is no surprise there.

In terms of optical quality, this ended up being a bit of a tricky comparison because of parallax and depth of field.  First of all, the CMR8 is clearly the weakest product here, but also the least expensive. The guys at HiLux said that they are working on fixing some of the distortion, so it should get better and at the time of this writing, it probably is (I need to check).  Most of the side by side was done with the Burris, GPO and March.

Before I talk about optics, note how short the March is.  It is difficult to make very short optics and the complaints I have about March’s optical system are a direct consequence of making it very short.

As an optical system, overall, I probably like GPO the most in this group.  However, if you stay in the 75-200 yard range, March has better resolution at a similar contrast.  Between 200 and 400 yards, the optical performance of the three scopes is pretty close. Once you get beyond 400 yards, the Shorty falls a bit behind the other designs here.  At closer distances, the Shorty also suffers if you stay at 8x, but dialing down magnification really helps and at closer distance with scopes like these, I always dial down anyway.  Basically, if I never shoot beyond 350-400 yards, Shorty is the better optical design. However, if I never extend the distance, I might as well save some money and get a 1-6x. All three of these scopes have fixed parallax at 100 yards or so.  Because it is so short, the March Shorty has really shallow depth of field, so it loses some resolution at longer distances as you get further away from its optimal focus. For the same reason, it seemed to pick up parallax error faster than the other two.  Significantly faster. At longer distances, both Burris and GPO were a lot friendlier. Interestingly, while XTR II and GPOTAC are both made by LOW and are likely related designs, GPOTAC had better DOF (depth of field) and less prominent parallax error at longer distances.  Still, XTR II acquitted itself rather well.

Flare was not very prominent with any of theses, although March had a bit more of it than the other two.  It comes with a sunshade that really helped, but it does make the scope longer (picture a bit further down).

With scopes that go down to 1X, the ease of getting behind the scope and a wide flat FOV (Field Of View) are really important and all three of these are quite good.  March has just a touch more distortion than Burris (and GPO is slightly better still) toward the edges as you move your eye laterally behind the eyepiece, but it is very reasonable.  I spent a fair amount of my time with these scopes shooting off hand and shooting quickly. I can see the differences between when I carefully look for them, but in practical terms there wasn’t enough to worry about or make a difference.  Whatever difference was there likely was driven by reticle variations more than anything else.

GPOTAC 1-8×24

Overall, I am pretty impressed with this scope, except, as previously mentioned, with reticle visibility at 1x.  I would have liked to see some tapered lines and thicker horseshoe or something similar that would make the reticle stand out more at 1x.  Also, since the scope I looked at is a prototype of some sort with illumination that is not as bright as on production models, I should probably revisit it with a full production illumination module some time.

It is really a very good general purpose 1-8x design and its only real weakness is performance on 1x in bright light which is reticle related.  Most scopes of this type have discreet illumination steps. GPOTAC illumination module is continuously variable, which I like a fair bit. In low light, it can be set extremely low, so it does not disturb night adapted eyes.  

Another thing I liked was that it was really easy to get behind (same as the XTR II).  Eye relief was quite flexible and parallax stayed in check very nicely out to 600 yards which was the extent of how far I took it.

I do not fully understand the need for exposed turrets on a scope of this type, but since they lock in place, I do not have a problem with it.

All in all, GPO 1-8×24 is a pretty good fit for a lot of applications, but for going fast with an AR, there are better reticles out there.  Outside of that, I really like this one, although for an AR-15, I do not think I’d be willing to dish out extra $500 for this scope over the optomechanically similar Burris XTR II.

In terms of direct competition price wise, GPOTAC goes head to head against the very popular Nightforce NX8.  That is some tough competition. While I am not a Nightforce groupie (there are some Nightforce groupies on every internet forum confidently stating that the reticles of the NX8 is woven from unicorn hair and illuminated by little elves living inside the tube among other nonsense) by any means, NX8 looks impressive on paper being nearly as compact as the March and equipped with extremely bright reticle illumination.  The little time I spent with the NX8 suggests that it is a better scope than the GPOTAC on 1x, while GPOTAC seems to be better at 8x. Reticles are in the eye of the beholder. One thing I dislike immensely about the NX8 is the exposed elevation turret. Interestingly, for some inconceivable reason they offer a version with covered turrets, but for LE/Mil only. Still, it costs the same as GPOTAC and is enjoying immense popularity.

 

March Shorty 1-8×24

As I mentioned earlier, from a technical standpoint, I really like what March has accomplished here and, if you are staying inside of 400 yards, this is an excellent option.  The things I take issue with are primarily related to the decisions made by product planners, not by engineering. As a general disclaimer, I took all of my concerns to March before publishing them and while they got a little defensive, they were fairly mature about it.  That’s a good thing. I’ve seen people really get their panties in wad after much milder criticism.

Most of my criticism has already been mentioned, so I am not going to rehash it too much: depth of field is shallow and the turrets should be locked or covered.  Reticles are in the eye of the beholder.

Interestingly, I really liked this scope as a 1-6x.  As a general purpose design, March’s larger 1-8×24 with side focus is a far superior option since adjustable parallax takes care of the bulk of my concerns.  

Also, with March scopes, reticle illumination control is a large rubberized button inside the parallax turret. With the Shorty, they use essentially the same turret housing, except it does not rotate since parallax is not adjustable.  However, on a tactical scope, a large rubberized pushbutton is not an optimal solution since it is really easy to press accidentally. In addition, March has two illumination modules: Hi and Low. Each has four brightness settings.  I have used both and the low module works well in low light, but is not nearly bright enough for anything else. The Hi module is too bright for low light, while still not being bright enough for daylight. It is just right for the dusk.  All twenty minutes for it. The saving grace here is that March has a third illumination module that they never talk about for some reason. It is a six position module where the rubberized button is just ON/OFF and there is a rotary lever that lets you choose between six settings.  This module has a lot more dynamic range and March should really be shipping the Shorty with it. You can probably request it in this configuration if you are so inclined.

When I summarized my take on the Shorty for the guys at March, it became apparent that while we agree it is a niche product, we disagree on what that niche is.  I am perhaps criticizing the Shorty a bit too unfairly, but I think I have to make clear that with all my reticle and DOF complaints, if I could get it with covered or locking turrets, I would have bought the Shorty on the spot with either of the two available reticle (FMC-1 which I slightly prefer is on the left) and with the six position illumination module as pictured below.

FMC-1 Reticle

FMC-2 Reticle

March 6 position illumination module

 

Overall, the scope’s strengths really outweigh its limitations and the only thing that is a real deal breaker for me is the exposed non-locking turret.  I know how to deal with the rest of it and I can think of many applications for this design.

 

That having been said, while I do not think they will listen to me, I would really love to see what March engineers could do if they were tasked with making and ultra compact and light weight 1-6x or 1-5x design.  For an ultra light AR carbine with a good barrel, I would comfortably sacrifice a little bit of top end magnification for better DOF, light weight and compactness.

I also like the mounting solution: a single wide ring which makes positioning the scope on the rail very easy.  The scope March sent me had the sunshade, covers and cat tail included. I am not sure how it is configured for retail, but if I were to choose the right configuration, I would leave the sunshade in the box and keep the scope short.  The more time I spent shooting with the scope the more I appreciated its strengths and ignored the weakness, although I did stay inside of 400 yards for the most part.

 

Burris XTR II

I have already written about this scope in a different article, so I am not going to say too much here.  In the field of 1-8x FFP scopes, this is sort of a “goldilocks” product. It is well priced, very robust, optically good, and comes with a very serviceable reticle.  It is my go to scope for an accurate AR-15 carbine that I want to use across the course for everything that the 5.56 cartridge is capable of this side from varmint shooting.  It is $500 less expensive than GPOTAC and $800 less expensive than the Shorty, while giving up very little in performance. At some point, I will get it side by side with the Nightforce NX8 to see if the compact size and nuclear bright illumination of the NX8 are sufficient to make me pay the extra money it requires.  Maybe there will be something else announced at SHOT that peaks my interest. Until then, the XTR II sits on my AR.  The most direct competition for the XTR II comes from Primary Arms Platinum which is likely the same basic scope with a more mall ninja friendly reticle.  However, PA does have a mrad based version out and a better Griffin Mil reticle is coming out too.  I look forward to testing it side by side with the Burris.

 

 Posted by at 9:22 am
Nov 162018
 

I am kicking off another comparison since it sorta got my interest.  While I am not a target shooter, I have some peripheral interest in high magnification scopes and they are interesting from an optical standpoint.  For a little while now, if you really wanted a high mag scope and you had some money to spend, you got a March.  March seems to have been administering a (maybe well deserved) beating to Leupold and Nightforce despite their occasional attempts to fight back.

Some folks in Europe, however, are apparently using IORs a lot, which I find odd since my recent experience with IORs has not been great.  I live in the US, so for a lot of people here the IOR experience has been somewhat influenced by a rather colorful importer, so I will ignore IOR for now.

 

There is always S&B Field Target scopes and Kahles 10-50×56 Competition that looks to have been designed to compete against it.

I am, however, very interested in who can challenge March for less money, which led me to Delta Stryker HD 5-50×56, Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60×52 and Sightron SV 10-50×60.

In the future, I might expand this to other scopes, but now I am looking at these three.  Still, I am kinda curious about Leupold’s 7-42×56 VX-6.

Here is teh spec table for some of them, with the threes copes I have on hand right now in bold.  I will make a few videos on the subject with the first one below the spec table.

  Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60×52 Sightron SV 10-50×60 Delta Stryker HD 5-50×56 S&B  

FT II 12.5-50×56

Kahles Comp 10-50×56 Nightforce Comp 15-55×52 March 8-80×56 March HM 10-60×56
Length, in 16.1 16.9 14.3 16.9 16.9 16.2 15.74 16.25
Weight, oz 29.7 41.8 38.9 42 31.4 27.8 29.63 32.6
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 30mm 34mm 34mm
Eye Relief, in 3.9 3.8 – 4.5 3.5 – 3.9 2.75 3.74 3.15 3.4 -3.7 3.5 – 4
FOV, ft@100yards 6.3 – 1.7 

5.1 @ 20x

9.6 – 2.2 

5.5 @ 20x

21.2 – 0.72 

5.37 @ 20x

12.6 – 3.3 

7.38 @ 20x

8.7 – 1.8 

4.5 @ 20x

6.91 – 1.83 

5.03 @ 20x

13.2 – 1.3 

5.2 @ 20x

10.5 – 1.7 

5.1 @ 20x

Exit Pupil 3.22 – 0.87 5.24 – 1.2 7.2 – 1.1 4.55 – 1.18 5.4 – 1.12 3.54 – 0.93 7 – 0.7 4.11 – 0.94
Click Value ⅛ MOA 0.05 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad or  

⅛ or ¼ MOA

⅛ MOA ⅛ MOA ⅛ MOA ⅛ MOA
Adjustment per turn 10 MOA 5 mrad 10 mrad          
Adjustment range E: 55 MOA 

W: 45 MOA

E: 20.4 mrad  

(70 MOA)

W: 17.5 mrad

E: 30 mrad 

(100 MOA)

W: 15 mrad

E: 65 MOA 

W: 32 MOA

E: 55 MOA 

W: 45 MOA

E: 55 MOA 

W: 50 MOA

E: 60 MOA 

W: 40 MOA

E: 60 MOA 

W: 40 MOA

Close focus 15 yards 13 yards 10 meters 7.7 yards 8 yards 25 yards 10 yards 10 yards
Zero Stop No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP FFP or SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP
Reticle Illumination No Optional Yes Yes No No Optional Yes
Price $1500 $2000 $1690 $3400 $2750 $2350 $2970 – $3400 $3500

 

Part 1:



Part 2:

 

 Posted by at 10:31 am
Nov 132018
 

This is the type of scope I have a lot of interest in.

Thanks largely to Light Optics Works (LOW) being a pretty decent Japanese OEM, the quality of a long range scope you can get under $2k has really exploded in recent times.  It seemed like nearly every brand was getting something made by LOW.  Naturally, other OEMs started getting into the game and offering increasingly good product at competitive prices.  Now, I can get a full featured scope that is reasonably decent anywhere from $600 to $1700.  There are obvious differences within that price range and that is one of the things I am looking to explore.

In the past, SWFA had this segment largely to itself, thanks to the success of their 3-9×42 SS HD, 3-15×42 SS Classic and 5-20×50 SS HD.  Frankly, I still use these and the 3-9×42 is one of my all time favourite scopes due to its simplicity and ruggedness.  If you are looking for track record, it is hard to do better than these.  That having been said, the new players are more full featured designs with more modern reticles.  I fully expect SWFA to not take it lying down, but in the meantime, I figured I should make an overview of what is out there.  In the video below I talk a little bit about three of the contenders: Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56, Vortex Viper PST Gen 2 5-25×50 and Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56.

I also have a lot of mileage with much less expensive, but very decent Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50, so as I go through this review, I will talk about it as applicable.  A bit further down (below the video and some advertising) is the spec table where I show several additional scopes that I will add to the conversation a little later in follow-up videos.  Sig Tango6 4-24×50 and Vortex Razor AMG 6-24×50 are both designs I happen to like, albeit for different reasons.  I will talk more about them as I go down this path.



Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56 Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56 Athlon Cronus BTR 4.5-29×56 Vortex Razor HD Gen2 4.5-27×56 Athlon Ares 4.5-27×50 Vortex PST Gen2 5-25×50 Sig EO Tango6 4-24×50 Vortex Razor AMG 6-24×50
Length, in 15.3 14.37 14.3 14.4 13.8 16 13.6 15.2
Weight, oz 36.5 35.8 35.8 48.5 27.3 31.2 39.2 28.8
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 30mm 34mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.9 3.2 – 3.8 3.6 – 3.8 3.7 3.9 3.4 3.4 – 3.7 3.6
FOV, ft@100yds 24.5 -3.75

5.65 @ 20x

24.8 – 3.72

5.58 @ 20x

24.8 – 3.83

5.55 @ 20x

25.3 – 4.4

5.94 @ 20x

22.7 – 3.8

5.13 @ 20x

24.1 – 4.8

6 @ 20x

24.7 – 4.6

5.52 @ 20x

20.4 – 5.2

6.12 @ 20x

Exit Pupil 8.8 – 1.9 8.8 – 1.9 8.8 – 1.9 11.1 – 1.8 11.6 – 2.1
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adj per turn 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad E: 33 mrad

W: 14 mrad

10 mrad 10 mrad 12 mrad 10 mrad
Adjustment range 32 mrad E: 30 mrad

W: 15 mrad

E: 32 mrad

W: 18 mrad

10 mrad 24 mrad 20 mrad 23.2 mrad E: 27.5 mrad

W: 10 mrad

Reticle Ill Yes Yes Yes Zero Stop with Lock Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP Yes FFP FFP FFP FFP
Close Focus 25 yards 23m 25 yards 36 yards 25 yards 25 yards 25 yards 25 yards
Price $1200 $1700 $1700 $2400 $850 $1100 $1700 $2500

 

 

Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30×56 Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30×56 Athlon Cronus BTR 4.5-29×56 Vortex Razor HD Gen2 4.5-27×56 Athlon Ares 4.5-27×50 Vortex PST Gen2 5-25×50 Sig EO Tango6 4-24×50 Vortex Razor AMG 6-24×50
Length, in 15.3 14.37 14.3 14.4 13.8 16 13.6 15.2
Weight, oz 36.5 35.8 35.8 48.5 27.3 31.2 39.2 28.8
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 30mm 34mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.9 3.2 – 3.8 3.6 – 3.8 3.7 3.9 3.4 3.4 – 3.7 3.6
FOV, ft@100yds 24.5 -3.75

5.65 @ 20x

24.8 – 3.72

5.58 @ 20x

24.8 – 3.83

5.55 @ 20x

25.3 – 4.4

5.94 @ 20x

22.7 – 3.8

5.13 @ 20x

24.1 – 4.8

6 @ 20x

24.7 – 4.6

5.52 @ 20x

20.4 – 5.2

6.12 @ 20x

Exit Pupil 8.8 – 1.9 8.8 – 1.9 8.8 – 1.9 11.1 – 1.8 11.6 – 2.1
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adj per turn 10 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad E: 33 mrad

W: 14 mrad

10 mrad 10 mrad 12 mrad 10 mrad
Adjustment range 32 mrad E: 30 mrad

W: 15 mrad

E: 32 mrad

W: 18 mrad

10 mrad 24 mrad 20 mrad 23.2 mrad E: 27.5 mrad

W: 10 mrad

Reticle Ill Yes Yes Yes Zero Stop with Lock Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP Yes FFP FFP FFP FFP
Close Focus 25 yards 23m 25 yards 36 yards 25 yards 25 yards 25 yards 25 yards
Price $1200 $1700 $1700 $2400 $850 $1100 $1700 $2500
 Posted by at 2:09 pm
Oct 262018
 

I have built a good number of AR15s over the years both for myself and for others, so I have developed a healthy set of preferences.  Recently, someone asked me about the build for a very specific AR15 that I had in a picture, so I figured I should explain a little more why I built it the way I did.  In general, I have talked a little about basic component choices for ARs here.

Here is a picture of the specific build in question:


Before I get into the specifics, let me walk you through my reasoning for this build.

This is my take on a general purpose 5.56 AR-15.  It is not optimized for any one thing, but I want it to do everything an AR-15 carbine is supposed to do in a pinch, from CQB to long(ish) range engagement.  For a 5.56 long(ish) range is out to 600 yards or thereabouts.

What his means is the rifle has to be light enough for speed and balanced well enough for speed while still maintaining reasonable accuracy for longer distances.  What was also an important consideration for me was that the barrel maintains consistent POI even as it gets a little warm.  I put links with a bunch of components I like at the very bottom of this post, rather than embed links everywhere through the text, so if you want to see how much all these things cost, just scroll down.

For the barrel to be consistent, it should not be a pencil barrel.  I have seen plenty of ultralight barrels that are quite accurate, but they do warm up quickly, so I decided to go with a medium weight design.  This one is from AR-15 Performance.  They offer a good bang for the buck and I can buy their improved bolt already matched to the barrel.

They change the configurations they offer, so the specific barrel I used is no longer on their webpage.  Here is what it is:

-16″ length: I am OK loosing a little speed for maneuvaribilty

-Diameters: 0.8″ under the handguard, 0.75″ gas block, 0.718″ in front of the gas block.  Basically a simple mid-weight/SPR type profile

-5/8-24 barrel threading leaves a little more metal at the muzzle.  I do not know if this makes any difference, but I see no downside.  I use a 30cal muzzle device and it seems to work fine.  When I move to a free state and start buying suppressors a thread-on can for my 308 will also work on this barrel if need be
-Wylde chamber for best results with both 223 and 5.56 ammo.
-4150 Chrome Moly with melanite treatment all over the place.  Supposedly, it lasts longer than stainless, but I do not think I am in danger of shooting either one out any time soon.
-Mid-length gas system: I tend to go with the longest gas system I can get in a barrel.  Most carbine length gas systems I have seen appear grossly overgassed, so with those I prefer adjustable gas blocks.  With most mid-length gas system barrels I get proper gas volume with simple non-adjustable gas blocks.
AR15 Performance makes good barrels, but they are not the only game in town.  Given all the excellent options out there, I generally use AR barrels that are in the sub-$300 range and aside from ARP, I have been quite impressed with Faxon match barrels for the money, same fro Criterion Hybrid barrels.  It hatd to go wrong with either one of these.  For a little more money, Rainier Ultramatch is also very good (and a little prettier to look at).  Basically, for this type of a build any 16″ barrel with a diameter in the 0.75″ – 0.80″ is fine.

Speaking of gas blocks, this particular build has a simple set screw version that happened to fit this barrel very tightly.  Generally, I prefer clamp on gas blocks like those from Daniel Defense and a few others.
For ultimate precision or if the system is overgassed, there are many nice adjustable gas blocks out there, like those from Superlative Arms and a few others, but given a choice I use simple non-adjustable ones when I can.
The handguard is a carbon fiber weaver from Brigand Arms.  Since I do a lot of shooting off hand and I did not use an ultralight barrel, I wanted to use the lightest possible handguard to keep the balance point from moving forward too much.  Brigand handguards are the lightest available and very strong.  The only downside is that if you manage to stick your figner through the weave and touch a smoldering hot gas tube, you will not enjoy it.  Ask me how I know…
The bolt is from ARP, but the carriers I like are single piece ones from Voodoo.  You can either buy just the carrier or the entire BCG.  Aside from being one piece, they are also coated with something that makes them slick and easy to clean.  All my builds going forward will be using these.  They offer both standard and lightweight carriers.  Use standard weight with non-adjustable gas block.  If you are going with an adjustable gas block, go for the lightweight carrier.
The charging handle is an ambidextrous affair from Radian called the Raptor.  Being able to work the charging handle with either hand is important for me.
The upper receiver is a standard Aero Precision piece.  You can get exotic with these, but I usually do not.
The lower receiver is from VC Defense which gives me ambidextrous bolt release.  I often shoot with a sling, which keeps my support hand occupied.  After a mag change, being able to drop the bolt back with the shooting hand is useful.
LPK and trigger are from Geissele. It is SSA-E trigger in this case which is a very good option for general purpose use.
The stock is the Ultralight from Ace which uses a rifle extension.  This part is important since a rifle extension/buffer/spring seems to shoot notably softer than the carbine one.  It is also very light, which helps me keep the balance point right under the magwell.  This design also allows me to rotate the buttpad slightly which help with the precision side of things.
Spring and buffer are absolutely standard.
I live in California, so I have to use a finned grip, which is stupid, but must be done to comply with our crazy laws.
The ambidextrous safety, like the charging handle is from Radian Weapons and it has two modes: 90 deg and 45 deg.  I use a 45 degree set-up since that makes for a better thumbrest (California stinks).

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Oct 102018
 

By Bill Meyer (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.



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 Meyer 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.

Sep 292018
 

I usually do not post info on various sales and things like that, but when I see a major discount on a product I recommend anyway, I figured it is worthwhile.

It looks like there is a major sale on Vortex Razor HD LH scopes with G4 BDC reticle that I helped design.  These are excellent hunting scopes and at current prices, they are an absolutely screaming deal.

3-15×42 for $550

2-10×40 for $500

1.5-8×32 for $500

 

 

 Posted by at 12:56 pm
Sep 162018
 

I was busy trying to wrap up my article on 8x erector ratio low power scopes, when I got an e-mail from Geoff from Burris saying something along the lines of “we’ve got this whole Burris blog thing going, do you have any interest in writing a guest post on what to look for in a low powered optic?  In return we will say thank you and link back to your website”.  I asked what I can say and what I can’t if I agree to put something together and he came back with what effectively amounts to “you can say whatever you want, but I would really appreciate not getting fired over this”.

In general, I have to commend Burris folks like Geoff and Sky for still talking to me after all the crap I’ve given them over the years.  They are good people and I have a lot of appreciation for their ability to take criticism and use it to make better products (or it might simply be masochism; they are not fessing up to the details).


That having been said, I think Burris gets a few things wrong and a lot of things right with LPVOs (low power variable optics) being a category really get right.  That mostly goes for Steiner too, so I threw a couple of references in there for Steiner P4Xi, assuming that is not enough to get Geoff fired.

Here is a link to the Burris blog post in question.

I like ARs and I like sorta “general purpose” scopes.  In the past, a general purpose scope was something along the lines of a 3-9×42, since everyone always assumed that a “general purpose” scope meant a medium magnification variable on a hunting rifle.  I bet that ARs of all sorts are outselling traditional botl action hunting rifles by a good ratio right now, which is forcing a re-definition of what a general purpose scope really is.  As the available erector ratios go up, scopes like the the 1-8×24 and similar are becoming the new norm for general purpose use.  Still, they have their limitations and I am extremely curious how it is going to develop further.



 

 Posted by at 11:09 am
Sep 112018
 

The new Tangent Theta reticle is finally out and it seems to be a really well conceived design.  I saw a couple of versions of it earlier on, wasn’t allowed to talk about it.

Tangent Theta got a lot of criticism in recent years for persistently staying with the reticle designs they had.  I am not quite onboard with that criticism since I am pretty happy with their original reticles, but the new Gen3 XR is, undoubtedly, a more modern design.

It seems to offer meaningfully more additional features, without being overly busy, so I expect it to do well.  All of this, of course, is pending actual test with the reticle in the scope.  So far, I’ve only seen the drawings.



 

Once you step away from the small floating dot in the center, you get 0.2 mrad hashes that are all of different length, so you always know where you are.  At every 1 mrad you have another dot, which will work well for those of us coming from Mil-Dot, Gem 2 MD and Gen2 XR.

Also, note the 0.5 mrad dots below center and below 1 mrad line.  That is where they are most useful.  I applaud Tangent Theta for resisting the urge to plaster extra dots everywhere.

All in all, I like what I see.

 Posted by at 3:18 pm
Aug 202018
 

August 20, 2018

Sig being sorta new (still) to the optics world, I take my sweet time before I publish publish reviews of their products.  I spend a significant amount of time using the optics I review and the newer the brand the longer I take.  I am sure the guys at Sig do not like it, but I think a little extra diligence is worth my time.

I’ve been doing sort of a market overview of different 4x prism sights and I think Sig is the last one I needed to cover for it to be fairly complete.  Check out the video below and then the spec table and some additional commentary immediately after.


First of all, I just noticed that I made a mistake on Elcan FOV in the video.  It is 6.5 degrees, not 7.  The spec table below is correct:

 

Sig EO

Bravo4 4×30

Trijicon

ACOG 4×32

Elcan

Specter OS 4×32

Leupold

HAMR

4×24 (discont’ed)

Hensoldt

ZO 4x30i

Browe 4×32
Length, in 6.25 5.8 6 5.7 5.47 6.3
Weight, oz 18.5 9.9 (w/o mount)

14 with mount

18.6

with mount

14.8 2

1.16

17
Eye Relief, in 2.2 1.5 2.75 2.8 2.56 1.5
FOV, ft@100 yards 53 (10 deg) 36.8 (7 deg) 34.2 (6.5 deg) 31.5 (6 deg) 42 (8 deg) 36.8 (7 deg)
Click Value 0.5 MOA 0.5 MOA 0.5 MOA 1 MOA 0.2 mrad 0.5 MOA
Price $800 $1000 $1250 $1299 $1395 $1100

 

Most of the comparison was between Sig and Elcan, but I also had the Leupold HAMR on had for a little bit, so I had them side by side.  Optical quality was similar, but Sig is definitely the larger sight.  I do not talk much about Browe, but it is effectively a re-hash of Trijicon 4×32 with a bit more clever electronic integration and the things I do not like about the 4×32 ACOG carry over to the Browe optic.

I think the only 4x prism sight I have not messed with yet is the newish Bushnell Accelerate which really competes in a different price bracket.  I will try to get my hands on one before I move to 3x or 5x prism scopes that seem to be getting somewhat numerous.

One of the reasons I like sights like this is the balance. In the picture below, Bravo4 is next to Burris RT-6 which is one of my favourite inexpensive 1-6×24 scopes.  There may not be all that much of a difference in weight, but the weight of a prism scope is further back, so it effects the balance less.

In a nutshell, I liked the Bravo4 a lot.  It does a lot of things well and very few things badly, but the outstanding feature I keep on coming back is that enormous immersive field of view.  If this is the type of scope you like, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

It is not replacing Elcan on my rifle yet, largely because I really like to shoot pretty far out with it and Elcan is a better precison scope between the two.  I also like the dual mode illumination system of the Elcan, where with a bright center dot I can use it the Byndon aiming concept and with dim full reticle illuminatoin I can easily use the whole reticle at night.  That having been said, I already have the Elcan.  I’ve had it for a number of years and I have a lot of trust in it based on experience.  If I were just starting out now and given that Bravo4 is around $400 less, this would have been a very difficult choice.

I will, however, take the Sig over the 4×32 ACOG.  Wide FOV and comparative ease of getting behind it, really give Bravo4 an edge.  In all fairness, it is a newer design, so it better have something on its primary competitor.

An accurate, but lightweight AR is probably the best platform for a scope like the BRavo4, Spectre OS or ACOG.  This AR is set-up with an utlralight Brigand Arms handguard so that the balance point would be right at the back of the magazine well:

I am very curious to see what kind of aftermarket support Bravo4 will get, but I already see a beefier dual lever mount out there and I am sure more accessories will come.  I would really like to see a lower red dot mount.

With all that, my criticism of Bravo4 is really minimal.  I like this sight a lot and it easily earns my recommendation.

 Posted by at 9:47 pm