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
Aug 112018
 

By Bill Meyer (Glassaholic)

Background:

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



Review Disclaimer

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

The Specs

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

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

Reticle:

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

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

Turrets:

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

Tracking:

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

Ergonomics and design: 

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

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

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

Eyebox:

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

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

Optical Quality:

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

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

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

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

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

Illumination:

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

The Kahles K318i:

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

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

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

The size of these two scopes are very close

Conclusion:

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

About the author:

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

Aug 062018
 

Given that writing anything takes me forever these days, I figured I’ll go over most of it in a video.

The Mark 5 HD is an interesting design in that it really brings into question whether it was intended to replace the Mark 6 3-18×44 or whether Leupold is planning to carry on with both scopes.

As I say in the video further down, in terms of optomechanical performance, I definitely prefer the newer Mark 5HD.  Mark 6 is a couple of ounces lighter and offers wider FOV.  Outside of that,  I do not see why you would be going with the Mark 6 over Mark 5.



Most of the testing of the Mark 5 HD was done on my AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel.  The gun is accurate and this scope is really at its best on precision gas guns.

Here is my customary comparison table.  There are quite a few other short scopes that I have not added to the table, largely because most of those are either a lot more expensive (Kahles K318i) or have substantially different magnification range (EOTech Vudu 5-25×50).

Tangent Theta TT315M is in there because I have it on hand and it is my reference standard for scopes in this magnification range.

Sig Sauer Tango6 3-18×44 Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42 Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 Leupold Mark 5 HD 3.6-18×44 Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44
Length, in 12.4 12.6 11.9 13.8 12 14.3
Weight, oz 37.6 30 23.6 27.8 26 28.1
Main Tube Diameter 34mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 35mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3.74 3.35 – 3.54 3.8 – 3.9 3.54 3.54 – 3.82 3.4
FOV, ft@1000yards

32 – 5.8

10.44 @ 10x

26.9 – 6.9

11.04@10x

36.8 – 6.3

11.34@10x

38.4 – 8.4

12.6 @ 10x

28.4 – 5.8

10.44 @ 10x

41.2 -8.6

12.9 @ 10x

Exit Pupil, mm 12 – 2.4 11.5 – 3.5
Click Value 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad
Adjustment range 27.6 mrad E: 26 mrad

W: 18 mrad

E: 29 mrad

W: 14.5 mrad

18 mrad

12 mrad

E: 29.1

W: 23.3

E: 22 mrad

W: 11 mrad

Adjustment per turn 12 mrad 10 mrad 10 mrad 6 mrad

double turn

10.5 mrad

triple turn

10 mrad
Parallax Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable Adjustable down to 20 yards
Zero Stop Yes

Locking turret

Yes Yes Yes Yes, Zerolock Yes
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP
Reticle Illumination Yes

w/Level

Yes Optional Yes Optional Yes
Price $1500 $2500 $2200 – $3400 $3200 $1900 – $2300 $1000

The comparison table does not reveal anything revolutionary.  Compared to the field, the two Leupold scopes are short and light (ish).  Sig Tango6 is also short, but needs to go on a diet.  That having been said, Tango6 has a built in electronic level that is very well executed, in my opinion.  I am wrapping up with the test of a 4-24×50 Tango6 and I really like the level.  Another thing to pay attention to is how much difference there is between FOV at 3x and 3.6x (or 4x).  Magnification is multiplicative, so keep in mind that 3.6x is 20% more magnification and 3x and, all other things being equal,  20% less FOV.

Lastly, notice that I added the Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44 into the table.  It is a lot cheaper and a bit bigger than other scopes here.  However, its optical performance is dangerously close to most $2k scopes out there.  It has a good reticle, decent turrets and well sorted out illumination.  And it focuses close enough to use on airguns and rimfire trainers.  How it does in terms of durability remains to be seen, but I have been keeping track since I started recommending it to people and it seems to be doing well.  Just some food for thought.

I did not talk much about low light performance.  Honestly, there isn’t much to tell.  It performed very nicely and did not exhibit any weird flare or other strange artefacts.  H59 reticle is not great in low light, but then again, to me it is not great in good light either, so there is that.

Fundamentally, if the reticle selection was a bit more up my alley, I would have the Mark 5HD on my 6.5 Grendel permanently.  I know David Tubb is going to have his DTR reticle in the Mark 5.  That would be interesting, so perhaps I will pick one up.

Here is a snapshot of how compact the Mark 5 (center) is compared to Tangent Theta TT315M and Vortex Razor AMG 6-24×50:

 Posted by at 3:55 pm
Jul 062018
 

I am fibbing a little. This is not my first look at this scope, since I spent a couple of days with a prototype. However, this the first time I see the production reticle.

I mounted the scope on my light-ish AR chambered for 5.56×45. This gun has very light stock and handguard, but the barrel is not a pencil weight and the receivers and BCG are of standard weight. With the new 2.5-10×32 SS Ultralight in a light Aerotech mount, the whole rifle, with the sling, weighs in at around 7.6lbs.  The fact that the scope itself weighs in at less than 10 ounces is kinda cool.

With dedicated light weighted receivers, lighter weight barrel and lighter BCG, I can probably make a nice hunting AR chambered for the Blackout or something similar, weighing in right around 6lbs with the scope.  That is an appealing thought right there…


I will spend more time working out the turrets, but my initial impressions are that the tracking is accurate and the feel is surprisingly good for something with covered turrets.

One of the things I check first is if the turrets match the reticle and that is what I did with this scope briefly after sight in.  The reticle is a basic plex design with 12MOA opening between the thick lines.  I did a quick test of 6MOA adjustment and 12 MOA adjustment with the elevation turret and so far so good.

The reticle is roughly the same thickness as other standard plex reticles out there.  Thick line is 0.8MOA and thin line is 0.2MOA at 10x.  That is very close to similar reticles from Leupold, Sightron, etc.

2.5x

5x

10x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll take better reticle pictures when I have the scope on a tripod.  These are sorta handheld with a cellphone, so the quality is not great.  However, this give you an idea of line thicknesses.

While we are on the subject of reticles, after some harassment, SWFA fessed up that they will add a second reticle to this line-up in a few months, designed to work with 223Rem at 10x.  Here is what the reticle will look like:

Upcoming BDC reticle

I’ll run some basic ballistics and see how the BDC works with common AR cartridges.  I checked how it does with 223 and it should be spot on with typical 55-60 grain bullets.  I will tabulate what I come up with for other AR cartridges.  One thing I really like about this design is that the holdover lines are thinner than the primary aiming point.  That is a very good compromise between holdover tree and low light visibility.  The primary aiming dot is 0.4MOA, the lines to its side and above are 0.3MOA thick and the lines in the holdover tree are 0.2MOA thick. Thick bars are 1.6MOA thick which should make for excellent low light visibility.  It looks like a clever enough design and I will spend some time working up how it fits different calibers.

The turrets are capped and resettable with 0.25MOA clickls.  Sighting in was very uneventful, which is always a good sign.

One outstanding feature of this scope is the slim eyepiece.  Eye relief is a bit on a short side which works well for ARs and micro action bolt guns, but I would not put it on a boomer.   Despite comparatively short eye relief (which you need to maintain good FOV with a slim eyepiece), eye relief flexibility is quite good and the scope is rather easy to get behind.  I spent some time shooting offhand and sitting and had no problems getting the right sight picture.  Generally, the market is not awash in 2.5-10x ultralight scope, so finding comparables was not easy:

SWFA SS Ultralight 2.5-10×32 Sightron S-Tac 2-10×32 Leupold VX-3i 2.5-8×36 (2.6-7.8x actual) Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32 Sig Whiskey3 2-7×32
Length, in 10.9 11.8 11.4 11 11.2
Weight, oz 9.5 16 11.4 13.4 14.8
Main Tube Diameter 1” 30mm 1” 1” 1”
Eye Relief, in 3.35 – 2.56 4.2 – 3.6 4.5 -3.6 3.8 3.5
FOV, ft@1000yards 41.2 – 10.5

21 @ 5x

38.4 – 9.1

18.4 @ 5x

37.5 – 13.7

21.4 @ 5x

72.2 – 13.2

21.1 @ 5x

45.4 – 13.1

18.34 @ 5x

Reticle Illumination No No No No Yes
Click Value 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.5 MOA
Adjustment per turn 15 MOA 15 MOA 15 MOA
Adjustment range 70 MOA 100 MOA 67 MOA 110 MOA 110 MOA
Parallax 100 yards 100 yards 100 yards No No
Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP
Price $300 $300 $400 $750 $290

Of the scopes in this table, I have the ultralight SS and Razor HD LH on hand, although the most direct competition is Sightron S-Tac and Leupold VX-3i.  The new SS is definitely the lightest of the bunch.

Side by side with the Razor HD LH, the Vortex is a better scope optically (as it should be given the price difference), but SSUL is no slouch and resolves well.  There is less color pop with it though.  The only other 32mm scope I currently have on hand is an older Bushnell Elite 6500 1.25-8×32.  The SSUL seems similar to that scope in terms of optics.  I’ll do some more testing and see how it all works out.

From a usability standpoint, there is no tunneling of any sort and the scope is easy to get behind, so offhand shooting at 2.5x works quite nicely for me.

Here are the Razor HD LH and SWFA SS UL side-by-side:

SWFA SS UL 2.5-10×32 and Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32

Note the difference in eyepiece diameters.  Another thing to note is that with the SS, I can use two separate rings instead of a single piece mount.  With Razor HD LH on an AR, I have to use a single piece mount since it has to be positioned fairly far forward.  While in principle it shouldn’t matter much whether you use a since piece mount or two rings, there are a couple of advantages (and disadvantages) to using separate rings.  The disadvantage is that the picatinny rail better be machined well.  The advantage is that with two separate rings, I can use the scope as a carry handle which is quite convenient.  It also frees up a lot of rail space if I want to add a red dot sight at 45 degrees (which I might) or any other accessories.

So far, I like the little scope.  Obviously, it being a new design, durability is not yet known, so I will keep track of how these do and beat this one up a little.

 Posted by at 4:21 pm
May 192018
 

A few days ago I received a very polite e-mail asking for scope advice.  If memory serves me right, the gentleman who sent me the e-mail, was debating whether to keep his Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32 that he got a screaming deal on or to pick up a similarly priced 1-6x scope of some sort.  The platform is a lightweight AR-15 chambered for 6.5 Grendel.  I think.

The catch is that I very briefly skimmed through the e-mail, but since I was about to get onto the plane I filed it off as “this deserves a detailed response, so I should do it when I have a few minutes”.  Well, I finally got a few minutes and I can’t find that e-mail to read through it carefully and answer it appropriately.  I must have accidentally deleted it.



To the gentleman who contacted me: I will answer based on my rather vague recollection.  If that does not cover it, please send me a note with more details.

For a hunting AR, I can think of few scopes better than the Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32.

 

In the grand scheme of things, for a civilian there are three reasons to have a 1-6x scope on a rifle:

  1. You want to use the rifle for self-defense/tactical classes where there is a need to use it like you would use a red dot sight.
  2. You are going to take the rifle hunting where you are shooting driven game or it is a big caliber boomer you use on DGR.
  3. You want your setup to look cool.

Outside of these three, it is often difficult for me to justify the compromises involved in having true 1x on the low end of the magnification range.

Now, for a rifle used as a plinker, the compromises are comparatively minor, since you will do most of your shooting during the day and you are mostly just having fun.  However, for a hunting rifle, you want to think carefully before you put a 1-6×24 scope on there.  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, please keep in mind that I happen to have Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32 as sort of a permanent scope on my hunting AR chambered for 458 SOCOM.  However, since I also use this rifle to test scopes, it has had a few 1-6x and 1-8x variables on it (I am on the last leg of testing HiLux CMR8 1-8×26 on it right now).

There are a few reasons why you should think carefully before you put a 1-6×24 or something similar on your hunting rifle.  Unless you are planning to spend a fair amount of money, most of these scopes are not all that good in low light at 6x.  That is partly because of the smallish 20-26 mm objective (and corresponding small exit pupil) and partly because most of these are really optimized for low magnification.  Higher end models are, naturally, quite good at all magnifications, but they are pricy and exit pupil restrictions still hold.  The amount of light that gets to your eye at high magnifications where eye pupil size is not the limiting factor is proportional to the diameter of the objective.  At 6x in low light, a 32mm scope delivers ~78% more light than a 24mm one.

Another problem is with the reticles.  Most low range variables scopes out there today are really not designed for hunting and the reticles reflect that.  Razor HD LH, on the other hand, was designed for hunting and the G4-BDC reticle is configured with that application in mind.

 

 

 

 Posted by at 12:29 pm
May 132018
 

I spend a lot of time messing with scopes that qualify as LPV: Low Power Variable.  This term really came about when decent quality 1-4x scopes finally came down in price to the point where mere mortals can buy them.

Now, the market is absolutely flooded with LPVs of all sorts made on every continent except for Africa and Antarctica.  As is usually the case, the lowest priced ones are not very good and even some comparatively expensive ones are not great.  The first really excellent one was probably S&B Short Dot 1.1-4×20 which came about some time in mid-to-late 90s when Hans Bender was still the CEO of S&B and found the project interesting.  The basic idea was to make a scope that effectively worked like a red dot sight on low power and could be dialed up if the situation required a precision shot at a distance where a standard issue Aimpoint wasn’t quite sufficient.



That meant that at low power you needed a very visible reticle (either very bold etched design or very bright illumination or both) and a magnification of 1x or close.  There are other considerations, but fundamentally if you have a flat and relatively distortion free FOV with a very visible aiming point, you can run the scope on 1x just about as fast as you can run an Aimpoint or a similar red dot sight.  As far as red dot sights go, my favorite is Shield SIS, which I prefer to the Aimpoint and Trijicon, so I spend a fair amount of time practicing with it.  As I am about to publish another article on LPVs (this time on 1-8x designs that are sorta state of the art at the moment), I got a chance to compare how they do on 1x compared to Shield SIS.   When done right, they do really well.

While the industry has really gone toward very high erector ratio scopes, with 1-8x being the current preferred configuration, it is always important to remember that the reason these scope exist is their performance at 1x.  Everything else is secondary.  When designing a very high erector ratio scope, exit pupil and performance at 1x are often compromised.  Alternatively, I have also seen designs where in order to keep 1x performance viable, high magnification performance is compromised.

Now, as LPVs evolve they get better across the board, but some compromises will always remain.  For example, consider that an award for the SDMR scope just went to Sig Tango6 1-6×24 FFP scope, despite the fact that there is a slew of 1-8x scopes available.  I am not privy to how that decision was made, but if I were a betting man, I would bet that they went with a 1-6x scope because of price and performance on 1x.

The specific Sig scope that won the award is very similar to the current production scope and I am sure the production models will incorporate its features soon enough.  The SDMR scope has different outside finish, BDC-type reticle and brighter illumination.  It will also be assembled in the US.  I have a fair amount of experience with Tango6 scopes and like them.   Naturally, I also like that they seem to be running discounts on them every once in a while.  Here is a link to the configuration I like at the moment.  This is probably similar to the scope selected for the SDMR program.

I am going to stay away from a discussion of FFP vs SFP reticles since I covered it here, but every time I hear someone talk about reticle in LPV scopes someone comes up with: “Well, I only use it at 1x and 6x”, or whatever the top power is.  I do not necessarily agree with that approach because with the smallish 24mm objective lens diameter, there is a good reason to dial the magnification down to 4x or so for low light use.  That is really the reason I lean toward FFP designs for 1-6x and higher erector ration scopes.

However, if I could get a large enough exit pupil on 6x, I would absolutely agree that all you need is 1x and 6x, assuming that you can switch between them quickly enough.

Now, we are getting to the real reason I am writing this.  Most of us do not spend a lot of time clearing buildings and running high speed drills.  However, with the state of the art AR-15 these days being both light and accurate, I see more and more people really push the distances at which these guns are shot.  Once distance shooting becomes more important a decent LPV is a viable option, but not an optimal one.

Enter the 1x/6x or 1x/10x concept.  I have been talking on and off about what I call a poor man’s 1x/10x setup that I have been using on my 308Win AR for years, which is nothing more than a SWFA SSHD 10×42 scope with TPS’ CORA ring that supports a miniature red dot sight at a 45 degree angle.  In this picture, I have a Docter Quicksight on it, but that was mostly an experiment in how a very short sight window will work.  Quicksight is really designed for shotguns and for a carbine application, I would lean toward something like Shield RMS or Meopta Meosight or something similar.

In the past, I have tried this same setup with the same scope with other red dot sights, like Leupodl Deltapoint and others.

Interestingly, this whole setup weighs about as much as a good 1-6x or 1-8x scope, although it is bulkier.  It looks a little out of place on a 16″ carbine, but works surprisingly well.

It does offer me a vastly superior level of high magnification performance.  There is also some redundancy in that if the primary scope breaks, I still have the red dot that is brought into action by rotating the rifle just a little bit.  No need to re-adjust my hold on the rifle to make adjustments.

Now, 10x is a bit more than I would want in a general purpose scope, but that is what I had on hand and it works fine.  If I were going for more of an ultimate compromise, I’d be looking at a high quality 6x scope and the one that Cameraland has an exclusive one is probably the best one ever made.  Doug from Cameraland has somehow convinced S&B to make a run of PM II 6×42 scopes for him.  There are not cheap, but if you want the best 6x scope in the world, this is pretty much it.  Add a compact red dot sight to it in a 45 degree mount and you have the capability of low range variable, except with 6x performance that absolute smokes every LPV ever made.

 Posted by at 2:39 pm
Apr 272018
 

A little while back I swore that I am done looking at MOA-based riflescopes and that generally I will hold off taking on any unplanned reviews for a few months until I finish off the write-ups for everything I have on hand already.

Well, I lied.  I didn’t mean to, but Maven announced a new FFP riflescopes in a configuration I liked, so I figured I should take a look.  I have never looked at any Maven products before, but I have been following their progress.  Best I can tell, they get binoculars from some very respectable manufacturers in Asia and, as appropriate, align and assemble some of them at their facility in Wyoming.  I like that approach since you can have some very good quality stuff made in Japan, Phillipines or China, but being hands on with quality control at your own facility is a good idea.


When I saw that they introduced a scope, I reached out and very politely asked them to loan me one.  Here is Maven’s webpage describing the scope.

The basic configuration of this scope really appeals to me.  It is a 2.5-15×44 scope with FFP reticle, side-focus and covered turrets.  The reticle is a Christmas tree-style design of their own.  Unfortunately, the version they have now is in the wrong units, but I will keep trying to persuade them to see the light.

The scope appears to be made in Japan, but I have a suspicion they do some assembly in the US.  I will confirm the specifics before I finish my review.  In the meantime, as soon as the scope arrived, I slapped it onto my TIkka M695 in 280Rem and headed to the range:

This particular Tikka, despite its rather unimpressive appearance is freakishly accurate, so it is a very good platform to test a hunting scope.  The range where I was shooting has plate out to 1000 yards, so after a rather uneventful sight in, I was mostly shooting steel.  Once I figured out what the wind was doing down range, I proceeded to hit every plate I aimed at using the reticle for holdover.  The only time I used the turrets was for sighting in, but during that short experiment, they adjusted as they are supposed to and had rather nice click feel.





The clicks are 0.25 MOA each and a full turn of the turret covers 20 MOA.  I only needed to use 7 MOA of adjustment to get to the setting I needed, so the turrets did not get much of a work out.  I will rectify that as I continue messing with the scope.

The eyepiece is of the fast-focus variety, so I was able to get adjusted quickly and painlessly.

My initial impressions are quite positive.  Everything on the scope worked the way it was supposed to. Optical quality, at first blush, seems very good for the price range.  This scopes most direct competitor is Bushnells LRHS which, unfortunately, I do not have here, but I have a few other scope I can use to ascertain how the optics of the RS1 stack up.  Based on the limited experience I have had with it so far, I think it will do well.  Here is the spec table:

 

Delta Titanium 4.5-14x44FFP SWFA SS 3-15×42 Maven RS1 2.5-15×44 Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44 Vortex PST Gen 2 3-15×44 Burris Veracity 3-15×50
Length, in 15.2 13.66 14 14.2 14.3 14.1
Weight, oz 21.7 24 24.5 26.5 28.1 25.1
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 30mm 30mm 30mm 30mm 30mm
Eye Relief, in 3 – 4 4.2 – 3.8 3.4 – 4 3.96 3.4 3.5 – 4.25
FOV, ft@1000yards 21.8 – 9.33

13 @ 10x

34.78 – 7.21

10.8 @ 10x

41.7 – 7

10.5 @ 10x

23.5 – 6.2

11.16 @ 10x

41.2 – 8.6

12.9 @ 10x

36 – 7.5

11.25 @ 10x

Exit Pupil, mm 9.8 – 3.1 11.8 – 2.8 11.4 – 2.93 9.2 – 2.5 16 – 3.3
Click Value 0.3437 MOA 0.1 mrad 0.25 MOA 0.1 mrad 0.1 mrad 0.25 MOA
Adjustment range 34 MOA 36 mrad 100 MOA 24 mrad E: 22 mrad

W: 11 mrad

E: 70 MOA

W: 40 MOA

Adjustment per turn 5 mrad 20 MOA 10 mrad 10 mrad
Parallax Yes, AO Yes, 6m SF 10 yards SF SF, 20 mrad SF, 50 yards
Zero Stop No No No Yes Yes No
Reticle Location FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP FFP
Reticle Illumination No No No Optional Yes No
Price $500 $700 $1200 $1400 $1000 $700

 
The scope is available with two reticle and I choose to look at what seems to be a more interesting design to me:

I will take some actual through the scope pictures as I go along so you get an idea of how it looks in real life.  Designing FFP reticles so that they work across a broad magnification range can be tricky, but I think Maven did an overall very respectable job (I will naturally find something to nitpick on later).  In particular, notice how the outer thick bars on the horizontal axis are not too far away from the center aiming point.  That really helps reticle visibility at low magnifications.

The reticle allows for 30MOA of holdover, which takes my 280Rem out to ~1000 yards at sea level.  This time around I was shooting some factory ammo I still have left and with that ammo, 30MOA was about right at 950 yards with a 200 yard zero.  For handloads, I am standardizing this caliber on Badlands Precision’s excellent 145gr Bulldozer buller.  With that bullet, I think at 30MOA I will an extra 100 yards or so.  I am unlikely to ever take a shot on game that far out, but it is good practice.

That’s pretty much it for a first look.  I like what I am seeing so far.

Stay tuned for more.

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Apr 032018
 

As is often the case, I get my inspiration from various arguments on different forums where I am active. This video is to address some questions I get on the Hide. If something is not clear, please ask and I will do my best to explain it better.

The question of magnification comes up a lot as does the question of tube size. There are many considerations that go into determining the right tube size for a scope and reticle cell size is just one of them.


 Posted by at 11:56 am