Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
This Midas Tac 5-25×56 is the third scope I have reviewed from the relatively new Athlon optics company. Started and run by a couple of optical industry alums, Athlon sources optics from a number of different overseas OEM’s which are made to the companies’ specifications. Based on the company’s growth rate and customer satisfaction, the Athlon guys appear to be quite good at this. Certainly the scopes I have seen from them have proven predictably reliable and with features that I judge to be well chosen for the marketplace. Furthermore, Athlon appears to have a very rigorous quality control apparatus in place, as the scopes I have seen have much lower than average deviation from specifications when it comes to adjustment magnitude, reticle size, and reticle alignment. The predictability of their function is starting to make them rather dull to test.
Today’s scope, the Midas Tac 5-25×56, is a new scope being added to their existing Midas TAC line. It’s sort of a gap-filler. It is of similar glass quality and magnification to the existing Midas TAC 6-24×50, but has a larger 56mm form factor more in line with the higher end ARES ETR 4.5-30×56. You could choose to see it as a lower cost alternative to the ARES ETR 4.5-30×56, which it is similar in size to or as a larger alternative to the Midas TAC 6-24x that it shares relative glass quality with.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
We may as well start the theme of this review right here. There were no surprises in the unboxing. The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 comes with a lens cloth and manual just like its little brother the Midas TAC 6-24×50 did. It is styled very similarly and, from the objective to the tube to the eyepiece, it just appears to be a slightly bigger version of the same idea. The 5-25×56 is about 4oz heavier, just under an inch longer, has a 34mm instead of 30mm tube, and, of course, has a 56mm objective instead of 50mm. Probably, the biggest highlights are the 32mil instead of 25mil total elevation adjustment and the larger 5x instead of 4x magnification ratio. 32 mils is actually a pretty large adjustment range at any price these days, and the Midas TAC 5-25×56 is not a high cost optic.
The manual included with the Midas TAC 5-25×56 I received for testing appears to be the same one as the Midas TAC Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 from last year. In fact, its section with scope dimensions has not been updated to include the 5-25×56. I received this scope just before they hit the market generally, so it is likely from the first run and the manual you will receive had not yet been printed. Hopefully they update the troubleshooting section of the new one to remove the suggestion to directly support the barrel with a sandbag, as well as the text about excessive grease in the barrel. There should be no grease at all in a barrel at the time of firing.
The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is available with just one mil and one MOA reticle option. The mil option, the APRS3, is a typical mil hash Christmas tree reticle with a floating dot center and .2 mil increments horizontally out to 6 mils then .5 mil increments after that out to 9 mils, at which point there is just a thick crosshairs. Vertically, the reticle is graduated in .2 mil increments for just one mil. At that point, the top half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 9 mils and then it becomes a thick crosshairs, while the bottom half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 7 mils, where it goes back to .2 mil increments until 10 mils, at which point it becomes a thick crosshairs. While there is probably some rationale for the alternating use of a .2 mil graduation system and a .5 mil one, this is not fully explained anywhere, though even if it were, I likely wouldn’t agree with it over the consistency of sticking with the .2 mil increments throughout. Both vertical and horizontal crosshairs are numbered every 2 mils and are on the thinner than average side when it comes to line thickness. The Christmas tree section has rows of dots every mil below the central crosshairs. Each row is graduated in fine dots every .2 mils and a thicker dot every mil. The MOA based reticle, the APLR4 FFP MOA, has essentially the same appearance as the mil reticle. Unsurprisingly, its graduations are spaced 1 MOA apart. The APRS3 Christmas tree mil hash reticle is very much in line with what I see the industry converging to and the alternation between .5 and .2 mil increments at places is really the only bone I have to pick with it.
When tested, the reticle showed a very slight cant of ~.5 degrees counter-clockwise relative to the adjustments. This is not an amount of deviation I would be concerned about. The reticle graduations were correctly sized.
All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision riflescopes. Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is on the far left. On balance, the Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is optically the best of the Athlon scopes tested and on the better side of the field of sub $1K scopes overall. Its strongest points were field of view, depth of field, low light performance, and contrast. In these aspects it was either the best performer or close to it. The TAC 5-25×56 was more middle of the pack when it came to resolution, eyebox, barrel distortion, stray light handling, and chromatic aberration. In no aspect of optical performance that I measured did the TAC 5-25×56 test in the bottom 3rd of scopes tested. I think that the avoidance of any real weaknesses might speak as well for the scope as the overall above average finish. There is something to be said for an optical design balanced well enough that it really doesn’t stumble in any single design criterion.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 features a virtually identical large uncapped 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation adjustment to that of the Midas TAC 6-24×50. Both scopes adjustments have the firm, postitive, “clicky” feel. that comes from a high ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks. This does mean that you will occasionally over-rotate with them or lose click count and have to look at the dial. The Midas scopes are not the most difficult in this regard, but it will happen occasionally. I think the ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks is a difficult decision for optics makers. People generally greatly prefer this “clicky” feel and dislike the squishy feel that you get if the ratio of click force / rotation force between the clicks is low. However, it is difficult to have that positive “clicky” feel and also have a knob that the user won’t occasionally over rotate or loose count and have to break position to check on. Athlon has experimented both ways on this in the past and has understandably gone with the customers preferred feel. You do not make money telling people what the ought to want, you make it by producing what they already want.
Just like the smaller Midas, the 5-25×56 has a smaller capped windage knob. This knob is a 10 mils per turn knob that is marked 1-5 in each direction. The windage knob on my 5-25×56 is significantly stiffer and “clickier” than it was on the TAC 6-24×50, and, as a result, is easier to over-rotate or lose click count on. The power ring and parallax knob on the Midas are on the looser side of average with the euro-style diopter ring about average. The diopter rings on both Midas scopes seem to have a bit more correction range than on most scopes which I classify a win since I recently had an issue with a competitor who had so little range that I couldn’t even focus my 20/20 uncorrected eye all the way back to its optimum 20/15 or so.
The Midas TAC 5-25×56 elevation knob’s features and design are common to all of the Athlons I have tested so far. They are 10mil per turn and feature Athlon’s particular zero stop system, as well as an outer knob with the mil graduation markings on it that can be repositioned. Repositioning the markings to read zero at the rifle’s zero is done in the common way. The outer knob pops off and can be repositioned after removal of a single screw in the top. This outer knob is toothed with enough teeth that its markings will properly line up with the actual detents instead of landing between as some others have done. The zero stop system is one that both Midas TAC scopes share with the Ares BTR but that I have not seen on other optics. As is common, the whole elevation knob on the Midas screws up and down as the adjustment it rotated. This attribute forms the basis of both the zero stop and the simple scribed turn indicator. The zero stop consists of a brass disc they refer to as the “zero stop locking plate” located under the removable outer adjustment sleeve. This disc can be repositioned using three set screws. So, basically, you zero the scope, remove the outer sleeve, loosen the set screws, and move the disc so that it is lying flat on the saddle with its stop protrusion immediately to the right of the stop protrusion on the scope saddle. You then gently tighten the set screws and replace the sleeve and its screw with the proper alignment of the zero. This zero stop is very inexpensive to make, in addition to being quite functional. It also has the same advantage as most plunger style systems in that you can set it independently of the markings to give you a few tenths of adjustment below the zero if you want. It is a well designed system and I’m a fan.
In testing, the scope tracked absolutely dead nuts from 0 up to 17.4mils, returned to zero fine, and then tracked down from zero right on the money to 17.1mils for a total travel of 34.5mils. This travel range is even a bit more than the already generous 32mils advertised. Unsurprisingly, the Midas TAC 5-25×56 also tracked fine to the 4mils each way that I can measure horizontally and showed no zero shift with adjustment of the parallax, diopter, or power ring. The parallax knob even showed exactly 100yds when focused at 100yds and those things are never right.
Summary and Conclusion:
The pattern emerging with these Athlon scopes is that they
are solid predictable performers with good value at their price points and with
the most in-demand features. The quality control on the three scopes I have
seen has been superb, as two of the three showed no measurable deviation at all
from perfect in adjustment increment and the other was still better than
average. Similarly, all three had properly sized reticles and none had cant of
more than .5 degrees. This is a rather impressive record.
Optically, all the Athlons I have tested have met or exceeded my
expectations. Overall, this one was the best performer, landing well on
the higher performing half of all the sub $1K scopes tested. Larger 56mm
scopes are not my favorite, as I typically see little gain for the
extra size and weight of over 50mm scopes. In this case though, you do
get significantly more elevation range, and the optical design itself is
a little better optimized than either of its 50mm brethren.
The street price on this Midas TAC 5-25×56 is around $850, making it
about the same as the Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 and ~$200 more than the Midas
TAC 6-24×50. All three of these scopes make good arguments at their
price points so I think that Athlon has done a pretty good job of the
tricky work of product positioning. It is not hard to see why the
company is having such success.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: – Optics are significantly better than average at the price and well optimized – Tracked perfectly – Properly sized reticle with very little cant – Athlon’s QC is starting to look pretty superior – Very simple effective zero stop that lets you chose travel below zero if you want. – Full 10mil/turn knobs – Superb 32mil elevation travel – Reticle design in line with current trends – Good warranty and reputation
Cons: – 56mm objective does add size and weight – You will occasionally lose click count on the “clicky” adjustments and need to look at the graduations. – No illumination. – Basically no extras like scope caps, sunshade, or bra – Relatively new company with short, though good, track record
This is a topic I keep on coming back to since I like accurate rimfires, especially when it is cold outside and I am strongly inclined to shoot indoors.
If money were no object, I’d pick a fancy Anchutz and be done with it. My buddy Brian, on the other hand, swears that when the Lord created rimfires he meant the Vudoo. Based on the accuracy Brian is getting, he may be onto something, but that is still more money than I want to spend. FOr the longest time, I have been aiming at Volquartsen Summit with its straight pull biathlon-like action. That is still in the $1300-$1500 range. While cheaper than the Vudoo, I am having a hard time dropping that much cash all at once on a rimfire rifle. Money is always an object not just for me, but also for people who have been peppering me with questions lately on what is the best rimfire rifle on a budget.
Historically, I would send the tinkerers into the 10/22 land which provides for ample opportunities to rebuild your rifle multiple times. Many people enjoy the tinkering process (and I do have a 10/22 just for such occasions).
For people who just want to shoot tiny groups, my sorta standard recommendation was always CZ. I have a lot of mileage with a CZ452 that is more accurate than any inexpensive gun has any right to be.
However, apparently gun companies noticed that there is a market for accurate rimfire rifles and options abound. CZ is easily one of the bigger players there with the new-ish CZ457 line. Ruger has introduced their Precision Rimfire RPR. It is styled right, since it kinda looks like a chassis gun and seems to be adequately accurate. However, it feels a little too plasticky to me and the accuracy results, while good are not as consistently good as from some of the competition. Honestly, when trying to line-up behind it, there is something about the RPR that feels off to me. Can’t quite put my finger on it, but it is there. Maybe it is the grip or something else, because the stock is very adjustable.
Another option is one of many Savage B22 variants. I looked at a few and for the money they have a lot to recommend themselves, but the ones I have seen did not have the slickest feel. Accuracy-wise, they seem to be broadly comparable to Ruger American (which is the basis for the RPR).
Then, more recently, I discovered that Tikka has a T1X rimfire in 22LR and 17HMR. Tikka makes some tremendously accurate and reasonably inexpensive barrels, so that got my attention. Naturally, I did what all nerdy people do in situations like this and read every shred of published information available on the internet.
These seem to have remarkably consistent barrels, so if you really want world-class accuracy on a budget, it seem to come down to Tikka T1X and CZ457. CZ has an edge with user swappable barrels, but honestly, I just want an accurate 22LR. If I want an accurate 22WMR or 17HMR, I’ll just buy another gun. Tikka is available in 22LR and 17HMR, but the barrel are not user replaceable.
If you like traditional wooden stocks, there is a CZ out there with your name on it. CZ457 Varmint runs a bit under $500. If you prefer synthetic stocks, T1X standard stock fits my six foot tall frame exceedingly well. T1X in either 22LR or 17HMR is also right under $500 like the CZ.
If you want a chassis or a fancier stock, there are good options out there for both CZ and Tikka. CZ can be had from the factory in a Manners stock, but then you are right at $1k. MDT, Oryx and KRG all make chassis systems for both CZ and Tikka, with the most affordable being the KRG Bravo for Tikka T1X which costs right around $350.
Another weird thing I found is that most CZ 457 models are not threaded for suppressor use. Several models are, but to get one of those you are looking at extra $150 or so. Both T1X models have threaded muzzles.
Ultimately, it is kind of a coin toss, but I think I will pick up Tikka T1X in 22LR, slap a picatinny rail on it and a nice FFP precision scope, and head over to the range. I’ve been kinda itching to try some sort of a precision rimfire competition, so perhaps I will eventually add a KRG Bravo chassis to it as well.
Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
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. Sightron was very late to the party with ffp, mil/mil offerings, and zero stops. For years I talked to them about this and, finally, two years ago, they came out with an SIII in mil/mil ffp. That SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH was one of the sub $1K, ffp, mil/mil scopes I reviewed last year. Since then, they have come out with both a higher cost SV ffp design and this, lower cost S-TAC which sits at $700 street with an MSPR of $1k at the time of this writing.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
At first glance, the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH appears to share a lot of similarities with the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. They are both long and light scopes with very plain and subdued styling. The S-Tac comes in at 15″ in length and 25.6 oz weight. Both scopes’ turrets are also very similar, being 5 mil / turn with similar styling and feel. The S-TAC, however, comes standard with the better labeled and higher visibility text found on the “tactical” turrets which were an aftermarket option on the SIII and also include a zero stop. I should note that you can now get these updated adjustments (zero stop and tactical labeled turret) in the SIII with the SIIISS624X50LRZSFFP/MH model. These are the only changes from the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH I reviewed last year. Unfortunately, to get these additions adds a hefty $150 to the price. To that set of features, the S-Tac additionally has illumination and a flip-up throw lever on the power ring. Neither of these features is to be found on either higher cost SIII scope. In the box with the S-Tac is a lens cloth, plastic flip-up covers, two hex wrenches, a battery, and the same generic-to-all-Sightron-scopes manual that I received with the SIII last year. Said manual was supposed to have been updated to fix a minor error pertaining to angular and linear measurements in the windage and elevation movement table section, but evidently was not, as they are identical manuals. This update not happening could be worse, as it is basically a typo. However, each scope also includes a second supplemental sheet which has a reticle diagram and dimensions for said reticle, as well as a mil ranging formula. The ranging formula was wrong in the SIII’s supplemental sheet and is now somehow wrong in a different way on the S-Tac’s. These are not mere typos either, these are incorrect, non-functional, and non-sensical formulas. The correct formula should be: (target height (meters)/angle subtended (mils)) *1000 = range to target in meters. I am dismayed at both the persistence of the Sightron folks in getting this wrong and the misplaced creativity demonstrated by getting it wrong in a different way.
The Illuminated MH-4 reticle on the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH is very similar to that which was on the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. Both are very simple mil hash reticles with .5 mil subtensions over most of the reticle and .25 for the first mil from the center. The MH-4 in the S-TAC improves on the reticle in the SIII by adding some number labels for the divisions. This may seem like a minor improvement but in practice it helps greatly in avoiding mis-counting and can also save valuable time when making adjustments. Neither reticle has a Christmas tree section, which I am not sure is a bad thing as tree sections can interfere with how well you can see the splash on a miss. The reticle on the S-TAC is also illuminated and it is substantially thicker. I expect these two may be linked since the SIII had a very fine reticle that I doubt would have illuminated well. The illumination on the S-TAC is not just on the center area but instead on the whole of the graduated section of the reticle. I prefer this arrangement. In general, I feel very much the same about the S-TAC’s reticle that I felt about the SIII”s. There is little to either enthuse or repel a prospective buyer in the design. In testing, the reticle was correctly sized and showed no cant relative to the adjustments.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
For optical comparisons with the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH, I had the entire suite of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision rifle scopes that have been part of this ongoing series of reviews. In order of arrival, they are the: Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP, Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. It should be noted that the Nikon was not present to be compared. The example I was originally sent proved defective, had to be returned, and its replacement has not yet arrived at the time of this writing.
The S-TAC was one of the scopes I was most interested in
doing an optical evaluation of. This was because the SIII I tested last year
was, on balance, the strongest performer optically in this sub $1K series of
reviews. The SIII’s consistently good performance across virtually all of the
aspects of optical performance tested coupled with its light weight left me
quite fond of that optic despite the features that it lacked compared to most
of the other scopes in the field. Superficially, the S-TAC appeared to share
some of the same design heritage; perhaps it would do well.
Suffice to say, this was not the case. I will go into more detail. Setting aside the currently-absent-soon-to-be-replaced-because-it-was-defective Nikon, the S-TAC significantly under performed all other scopes in the field. It was rather consistent in this, being at or adjacent to the bottom in resolution, FOV, depth of field, low light, contrast, stray light, and chromatic aberration. Its performance highlights were eyebox and barrel distortion, where it came in just behind its sibling. It is not an uncomfortable or tricky scope to sit behind, it just doesn’t resolve things are well as most of the other scopes I tested. The sum of all this is that the S-TAC was very obviously a tier below any of the other scopes optically and, I would say, was significantly further from the next scope above it in performance than that scope was from the top performer. Given its sibling, I was pretty surprised at this. The performance difference was enough that when I first picked it up and looked though it without a lineup of scopes, I was already pretty sure how it would stack up.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
The S-TAC’s knobs are very similar to those on the SIII with
the addition of a zero stop. The knobs are 5 mil / turn and have clicks that
feel and sound positive, but are not so stressed out that they will skip over
detents and make you miss count. I would therefore say that the feel is a win.
As on most of the sub $1K series, the zero indicator adjusts independently of
zero stop. In this case, you loosen the top screw to change the indicator
setting. The knob is only fastened to the adjustment by this screw and so can
be easily turned when it is loose but must be carefully lined up while being
tightened as there is no indexing. The zero stop is a collar under the knob
that locks into place with three set screws. Once you have zeroed the scope,
you just loosen up the set screws on the collar and turn it until it snugs under
the knob. The actual threading for this collar is above the section that the
set screws interface with so the set screws won’t mess up the threads. Probably
the best thing about this system is that the zero stop collar has a line on it
for each turn above zero. This is very handy, especially since the 5 mil / turn
knobs mean you will often be a few turns above. I find this a substantial
improvement over designs that have lines but where you are already several up
from the bottom at zero and often also at some odd increment between them.
Because the lines are on the collar piece that is the zero stop, they always
line up right. The least attractive feature is that the collar feels a bit like
a jam nut in that the knob will jam itself onto the stop when you turn to it
and stick a bit pulling it off. Overall I like the adjustment mechanism with
the exception of being only 5 mil / turn and only being labeled for that first
When tracking, the adjustments deviate from true in a non
Going up from optical center: -At 5.0 mils on the adjustments, the scope is at 5.1mils on the target. -At 10 mils on the adjustments it is at 10.1 mils on the target. -Its full range is 11.5 mils on the adjustments at which point it is at 11.6 mils on the target. -It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.
Going down from optical center: -At 6.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 6.1 mils on the target. -At 10.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 10.1 on the target. -Its full range is 11.9 mils on the adjustments 12.0 on the target. -It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.
On the windage, it also seems to deviate a little, showing
~3.05 mils on the target when it is 3.0 on the knobs. I expect it would prove
to follow the same pattern as the elevation if I had a target that went out
There is no zero shift with parallax, diopter, or power ring and I saw no reticle cant. The reticle graduations are also the correct size. This degree of deviation from true in the tracking is about average for all the scopes I have tested over the years.
Summary and Conclusion:
There is no getting around that the Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH left me a little disappointed. This is because it was optically a clear step below its peers in almost every dimension tested and, given the performance of its sibling SIII last year, I did not expect that. Though not the cheapest, its ~$699 street price is one of the lower costs in the field and it does have some features not present in all other scopes. Illumination is the most notable of these features, which also include a pull out throw lever and zero stop. The S-TAC is one of the only scopes to be limited to 5 mils / turn though. I don’t think that there is one universal answer in this sub $1K price range of ffp mil / mil scopes. If cost and illumination are important to you and optical performance is less important, the S-TAC has what you are looking for. Ironically, it has precisely the opposite strengths and weaknesses from its sibling SIII. I guess they were separated at birth.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: -Has some features not all have: Illumination, zero stop, and a detachable throw lever -It’s zero stop system provides a good indicator of which turn you are on -Adjustments have a good feel and the correct resistance to them so you don’t miss count clicks -Sightron has a good warranty and reputation -At ~$699 street, it is one of the lower cost options
Cons: -Optically a clear step below the other sub $1K optics tested -Only 5 mils / turn -Significantly below average total elevation adjustment range -Manual is lacking and contains basic errors
Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Nov 15, 2019
Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
an optics manufacturer located in the Czech Republic. They represent what is
probably the most vertically integrated of all sports optics brands. Most scope
brands do not actually have any manufacturing facilities beyond warranty
repair. Those that do manufacture usually purchase coated glass and often some
sub-assemblies as well. Meopta manufactures all the way down to coating and
grinding glass. A great deal of their business is done in this OEM capacity,
producing parts and sub-assemblies not just for sport optics,but also for a
wide variety of other industries, such as medical and aerospace. The first
Meopta product I ever used was one of these OEM’d products. The very popular,
though now discontinued, original Zeiss Conquest series of scopes were made by
Meopta and continue to live on in Meopta’s lineup as the Meopta Meopro scopes.
Like many overseas manufacturers, Meopta has had difficulty with regard to both marketing their products and deciding what features to make for U.S. consumption. Their brand awareness has also been downright terrible. Some of this is understandable, as they were formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence and so were not seen in western markets until after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Much of it has just been lack of good branding, or appreciation of brand value. In the past few years this has changed some. A lot of this has to do with an advanced U.S. based optical coatings company that Meopta acquired a few years ago. The company came with some U.S. based employees who thought like U.S. shooters and changed the thinking within Meopta to a degree. This group also developed the technology behind the Dichro reticles featured on many of the Optika6 designs, though not the example I am testing.
The Optika6 line therefore is a big departure from previous Meopta offerings in that it includes a lot of ffp designs, mil/mil configurations, zero stops, throw levers, and some reticle designs from ILya.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP comes with a nice scope bra, lens cloth, battery, sticker, hex wrench, some spare screws, and a detachable throw lever that threads into the power change ring. There is also a manual, but it is not particularly useful. It has some stats on the scope’s specifications, but it’s directions on use are quite minimal and difficult to follow. I find the Optika6 to be an attractive scope. I am not sure exactly what makes some scopes attractive and others less so, or if there is any universality to what people find good looking in a scope or not. This one looks good to me though. I would describe it as having a softened tactical appearance. This is both figurative and literal in that the knurling on all the controls is rubber and so will not try to strip the flesh from your hands. The stiffness of each knob (paralax, power, diopter, and illumination) is right on. We will discuss elevation and windage adjustments later. Being a 30x 56mm optic with 34mm tube, it is pretty large. It weighs in at 38oz and is 15.4″ long.
Optika6 line comes in several different reticle options. For the 5-30×56, these
include a plex reticle, generic BDC with dichro elements, .308 drop reticle,
and ILya’s MRAD RD. It is a pity the MRAD RD does not have any dichro on it, as
I would have liked to try that concept out. That is secondary though. Having a
reticle that can hit at range is the important thing, and the MRAD RD is by far
the best option for that.
ILya’s MRAD RD reticle follows the general trend of .2mil
graduated, floating dot center, Christmas tree reticles, but with a few
distinctions. The first such distinction is that it only has only 1 mil of
graduations in the 12 o’clock sector. I like the open top section as it gives
you some space to observe a target area through with no obstructions. The
second departure ILya has from the norm is that he does less funny business
with graduation increments. Pretty much all the graduations are .2 mil
increments and there are .2mil graduations in all sectors of the reticle,
including the center. Many other scopes keep changing things up. This causes
more mental overhead and more mistakes. I never found myself second guessing
what a marking was on ILya’s reticle and that is really the goal. Lastly, the
line widths used for the graduations and crosshairs on ILya’s reticle are
significantly smaller than the average. I’m a fan of finer graduations so I
will take it. This leaves the reticle very fine indeed at 5x, but at 5x you’re
really only using the scope for observation anyway, so I don’t see a problem
with maximizing the reticles use for 15x and greater.
This brings us to the Christmas tree section. At first I was a big proponent of Christmas tree sections. The concept appealed to me because I really like more utility in a reticle. I thought that trees would make for faster measurement of shot correction, give you a faster way to make corrections in a pinch, and extend your total drop compensation range. In practice though, I have experienced less gain than I expected in these areas, and found a big trade off when it comes to seeing splash. Even when using a reticle with a tree section, I have continued to find it more accurate to measure for shot correction by moving the reticle to get read outs at right angles. Using the tree is both less accurate (big vertical gaps) and only works if your miss lands in the tree section. Not shooting strictly timed competitions (or ones that specifically contrive to disallow adjustment of the scope on some sections) I have found no speed advantage. Finally, most scopes now have adjustment range sufficient to any distance that I am confident of hitting at anyway. I really don’t do more than 15mils in drop ever and virtually every scope will give you that on the elevation turret. So, I have become uncertain as to whether or not I want a tree section at all and very certain that if I have one it should be minimal. The section in the MRAD RD is very thin but does have a lot of measurements. There are dots every .2mils and also dots at the .5mil increments between lines. For me it does interfere some in my ability to see splash. Less tree is desired. In testing, the reticle showed only the smallest deviation from correct dimensions. It starts a little larger than correct and then at about 8 mils crosses back to be very slightly smaller. At no point is it off more than .02 mils. That is to say, it is very good. The reticle is canted only very slightly relative to the adjustments, .03 mils in 10 mils of adjustment, in the counter-clockwise direction. This is also pretty good and of a small enough magnitude that it should not cause any problems.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
This review of the Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is part of an ongoing series of sub $1k FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope reviews. These scopes are used as the optical comparison scopes for each other. In order of arrival, they are the: Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56, Sightron S-TAC 4-20x50FFPZSIRMH, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. For testing, 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. Lastly, the Nikon had some issues necessitating its return. At the time of this review’s publication, its replacement has not arrived.
The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP was optically the
most interesting of all the Sub $1k ffp optics I have tested. The reason for
this is that it was the most unpredictable with regards to how it would perform
on any one specific attribute. For an example, we will start off with
resolution. The Meopta was significantly better than all the other sub $1k
scopes with regards to resolution. It was good enough I actually broke out a
USO SN3 3.2-17×44 I was testing for my uncle to test it beside the Meopta just
in case. That probably wasn’t necessary. The answer was no, the sub $1k Meopta
Optika6 is not competitive with the USO that had been well over twice the
price. It does, however, lead all other sub $1k scopes tested in resolution. On
the flip side, it is by far the worst at handling stray light. It should have
come with a sunshade. If you buy this scope, buy a sunshade and you will be a
much happier person. This stray light issue was a pain for me as both my
principle shooting range, and my optical comparison area are south facing and
anytime any direct sunlight landed on that objective from any angle it
significantly degraded performance. It actually took a while to figure out
exactly what was going down as the stray light would sometimes show up as the
typical hazy look, but other times things just looked out of focus or showed as
very telltale blooms.
Resolution and stray light were what I would call the two bookends of the optical performance of this scope. Following that pattern, The Meopta’s depth of field was the best in the group but its eyebox was the worst. In practice, at the range, the eyebox was perfectly functional, I actually had mistakenly thought it would prove to be roomy when compared to others. However, shorn of the stabilizing adjustable cheek piece of my rifle, it proved the smallest. On field of view, the Meopta had one of the largest, but it also had close to the most pronounced barrel distortion. The Meopta again led the field with very minimal chromatic aberration but was only average when it came to contrast. Despite having one of the few larger 56mm objectives in the lineup, the Meopta was only average in low light performance. What to make of a scope so often at the extremes? I think a couple things are notable. First, though the Meopta did spend a lot of time at both the top and bottom of the lineup, it spent more at the top than the bottom. Second, it tended to land near the top on the most important aspects of performance, these being resolution and field of view. Its worst showing, easily stray light handling, is also easily remedied with a sunshade. So, on balance I would say it performs better than average optically for the price, provided you have a sunshade on it.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
First we will start by talking about the unique the Optika6 has. The elevation pulls up to adjust and pushes down to lock. Oddly, the windage is neither capped nor locking. The zero adjusts on both knobs with the removal of a single screw in the center of the elevation adjustment and then removal and repositioning of the outer sleeve. Meopta has made this single screw easily removable without tools for the elevation knob which is nice. The windage knob’s requires a coin or screwdriver. The zero stop on the Optika6 scopes is a unique system. I have illustrated how to change it in the illustration below. You will note that, due to its unique cog-based system, use of the zero stop system will limit the maximum elevation range to a little less than three full revolutions. This comes out to somewhere around 28 mils total travel, which is a lot. You also may feel the zero stop cog as you rotate past it moving to your 2nd and 3rd revolutions. It feels sort of like a loose mechanical part. In fact, the first time I felt it I thought something felt loose and broken. Eventually, I realized what it was and that it is not an issue. Really, it is a pretty clever zero stop system and solves the difficulty that adding the locking mechanism to the elevation knob created for making a zero stop system.
Here is where I will talk about the feel of the clicks in
the adjustments. Most people are just wrong about clicks. Everybody seems to
say they like firm, stressed out, super positive clicks and not squishy ones.
This really comes down to saying you want almost all the resistance to motion
in the knob to come from the click detent itself and not something else,
usually an o-ring. I used to think this might just be a matter of taste, but it
is not. Most people are just wrong in their preferences, and here is why. This
is not about the tactile sensation of handling your knob and wanting it firm
and positive. This is about counting the clicks as you adjust, not miscounting,
and not having to break position to look up and check that the knob is on the
correct number. If the turrets are the very “clicky” variety, best
characterized by the S&B MTC turrets, you will often experience clicks that
you miss. This is because it takes a lot of force to move the turret over the
first detent, but between the first and second it takes almost no force. So,
your turning pretty hard and the turret skips though several detents quickly
enough that you don’t feel them all. The Meopta Optika6 is not near as bad as
the S&B MTC in this regard but I did experience some miscounted clicks on
it and had to break position to look up at the knob on it. This is something
you very easily note when you are assessing the tracking on a humbler device
but might actually fail to notice in the field, leading you mistakenly
attributing a missed shot to another cause. I mention all of this because
people will like the feel of these turrets. They will say things like, ‘they
feel very positive and adjust with a pleasing amount of force’. Perhaps Meopta
has done them just right for the market. It certainly doesn’t pay to tell your
customers they are wrong and people seem to like “clicky” feeling
turrets. My thoughts are that I miscounted clicks on these very nice feeling
turrets and I never miscount on nasty, squishy feeling ones.
Now on to the tracking. The first thing to note in the
tracking of the Meopta is that there is some slop due to the locking turret
design. Internally, there is some sort of spline sleeve that allows the outer
part of the adjustment mechanism to raise and lower to lock and unlock whereas
the inner portion contains the adjustment threading. In this design, the outer
portion also contains the click detents. As such, it is the outer portion that
you can both see and feel. You cannot see or feel that there is just a little
movement in that spline sleeve joint. The effect of this is that there is about
.07 mils of slop in the system. So you might adjust up 6.0 mils on the knob and
have the reticle at 6.0 mils on target. Then, you reverse and go down to 5.9
mils on the knob but your reticle will be at 5.97, having moved only .03 mils
because of the slop. So, whenever you are adjusting up, your adjustments will
always read .07 mils higher than when you’re adjusting back. This is a bit
annoying, mostly because it means that whenever you reverse direction for a
shot adjustment, you get less magnitude of adjustment than you think. I
understand this is a common behavior for locking turret designs. The windage,
which does not lock, does not display this behavior.
Now for the tracking. Going up from optical zero, the scope
tracked clean to 6.0 mils. At that point it starts to loose little by little.
At 13.9 mils on the adjustments the scope has optically moved 14.0 mils. It
adjusts a total of 15.7 mils up from optical zero. Of course, going back it is
+.07 mils reticle position at each knob reading.
Going down from optical zero, the adjustments go to 18.0
mils. Going down they actually look good at that 10 mils but, of course, when
you reverse and go back up, the .07 mil slop now makes it look like you’re a
Overall, this means that the adjustments are quite well
calibrated, notwithstanding the .07 mil of slop you have because of the locking
turret. They are never off by more than .1 mil from what they read. The scope
shows a 33.7 mils total elevation adjustment, but remember that the use of the
zero stop will limit you to a maximum of about 28 mils.
Going left to right on the windage turret that does not have
the locking feature, you notice no slop. It adjusts cleanly for the 4 mils each
way I have on the target and has a total range of 17.0 mils right from center
and 17.3 mils left.
Testing for lash in the parallax adjustment of scopes is not
one of my regular procedures but I noticed it while shooting with this scope so
I have fully investigated. For those who don’t know, lash in the parallax knob
refers to when there is enough slop in linkage inside the scope that adjusts
for parallax that it can noticeably shift position under recoil. Important to
this is that the movement will only occur if you adjusted one way (typically
coming up to your distance from minimum focus distance) and not the other
(coming down to your distance from infinity focus distance.) This is because
the slop basically represents the internals shifting from one side of their
adjustment channel to the other. If they start on the side they would be
shifting to, they have nowhere to go. On this Meopta, if you focus up from min
distance to your range you will notice that after a number of rounds fired you
have gone from zero reticle movement with head bob to about .06 mil of movement
because the parallax has shifted a little. There is no shift if you adjusted
from infinity down to your range.
To round out the mechanical testing of the Meopta, no reticle shift occurred with change in power, diopter adjustment, or parallax adjustment. So, all good on those tests. I would say there is a trend to all of the mechanical observations on the Meopta Optika6. That trend is that the mechanisms were all calibrated and working properly but there was a little bit of play in them. Realistically, this is not going to effect the use of the scope for long range shooting or hunting. You won’t fire enough rounds at the same range to move the parallax even if it was adjusted the direction that has a little slop. Similarly, the slop in the elevation adjustment due to the locking feature never causes things to be more than .1 mil off. The only way you will notice the slop in these adjustments is if you are testing it on a humbler apparatus such as I did or are shooting many rounds at the same distance.
Summary and Conclusion:
At time of
press the Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is sitting at about $899 from
the various online retailers. It is a very feature rich optic at that price,
having illumination, a locking elevation turret (though, oddly, not windage)
zero stop, and a detachable throw lever. On balance, it is the most feature
rich optic tested in this sub $1k series. You can have it in a variety of
reticle configurations, as well as with MOA instead of mil adjustments, but I
think will be most popular in mil/mil with ILya’s MRAD RD reticle, which is a
credit to the scope. This scope can also feature Meopta’s unique Dichro reticle
technology but does not currently come with this technology in a reticle I
would be interested in (a good mil one).
Optically, the Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is the least
predictable performer in the lineup, as often landing best or worst in the test
lineup than anywhere in between. On balance, it tends to do better on more
important aspects of performance such as resolution and worse on less important
ones such as barrel distortion. However, it really requires a sunshade in most
conditions to function well and should have included one. I will note here that
at the time of my writing, the sunshade for the 56mm Optika6 is not yet
available and the 56mm MeoStar shade will not fit. In the end, I would say the
Meopta Optika 6 performed above the average of its peers optically, but more in
a Brett Favre way than a Peyton Manning one.
Mechanically, the Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP can be best characterized as sound and properly calibrated but with some slop in the system. Both the elevation adjustment and the parallax adjustment have this slop, which essentially means they behave just slightly differently when adjusted one direction relative to when they are adjusted the other. In the case of the parallax that means it can show a little lash when adjusted from minimum focus distance to our target distance. In the case of the elevation knob you will note about a .07 mil difference at each increment depending on whether you adjusted up to that increment or down. The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP really leaves its potential buyer with a lot to think about because so often it excels or lags in such dramatic ways. On balance, though, it excels more than it lags and I think that Meopta will find this first substantial incursion into scopes with precision long range features a rewarding one.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: -Feature rich, 10mil/turn, Zero Stop, Illumination, Locking elevation, Detachable throw lever -ILya’s MRAD RD reticle -Better than average optical performance especially with regard to resolution -Large adjustment range -Tracking and reticle are properly calibrated -Attractive appearance -Good warranty and reputation
Cons: -Really needs a sunshade but does not come with one -Noticeable slop in both elevation adjustment and parallax -Though better than average overall, the optical performance does have some significant low points -The larger, 56mm objective is not translating to better low light performance or a larger eyebox -Complicated zero stop system not well explained by poor manual
Nice optics are really nice to play with. My review choices lean toward the high end simply because I like nice scopes and because I have the opportunity to use them. However, sometimes it is nice to come back to earth and consider scopes that normal people can afford (or are simply willing to pay for).
Earlier today I got a message from a friend of mine asking for my take on Sig Whiskey3 scopes. I was a little surprised because Ted, like me, likes and appreciates high end optics. Most importantly, since he is an avid shooter and hunter, I know that he is willing and able to spend money on high end stuff. I told him that Whiskey3 is a very serviceable scope, but not as good as the more expensive stuff he normally uses. It turned out that there was a little bit of a backstory there.
Apparently, a son of his friend won an inexpensive 243Win Howa 1500 boltgun in a raffle. The gun came with some sort of an el cheapo Nikko-Stirling scope. Since the rifle was going to get shot at most 3-4 times per year, they figured the scope will be good enough. Well, it was shooting 7 inch groups at 100 yards and the zero was moving around. Now, if it was a Remington, I could certainly see this kind of performance as not abnormal, but Howas are very decent rifles and I have never seen one shoot that badly. Still, they did not want to invest money into a rifle shot so seldom, so they stuck with it, and the kid kept on missing his deer during hunting season.
There is a persistent belief out there that in order to get a decent scope, you have to spend a significant amount of money. What is considered significant varies, but it can be anywhere between $800 and $2000 depending on who you talk to. That may have been true at some point, but the overall quality of available riflescopes has really gone up in recent years. Now, if you are looking for a long range precision scope with repeatable turrets, sophisticated FFP reticles, etc, it will still cost you some money (although there are several decent options now under $1k). If all you are looking for is “set and forget” type scope for general purpose hunting you can easily get something in the $200 range that will work quite well. It may not have all the latest features or the best optical quality, but it will be perfectly serviceable. To be clear, optical quality will be quite good, just not as good as the much more expensive stuff. Whiskey3 is one such design. Being in a time crunch (the kid had a hunt planned for a couple of days later), Ted headed over to a local gun store not far from his deer camp, picked up a 4-12×40 Whiskey3 for a bit over $200 and mounted it on a rifle. That is all he did. No bedding, accurizing or any other tricks. The results are in the picture below.
Here is what the rifle looks like now:
I think he even used the same cheap rings that came with the rifle. Now I would recommend switching to something a little sturdier eventually, but the rifle clearly shoots fine as is.
I am going to add a bunch of affiliate links below for various scopes that are along the same basic lines: moderately priced, sturdy and reasonable optically. However, there are more of these out there than I can easily list and I have not tested all of them. I can only comfortably recommend the designs I do have personal familiarity with. Therefore, here are some general guidelines in terms of the configurations to look for if you shopping for a inexpensive hunting scope.
Stick with moderate magnifications: 2-7x, 3-9x, 2.5-10x, etc. Basically, you want something that does not require some sort of side focus or adjustable objective. Stick to moderate objective sizes. Something in the 40-44mm range is a good bet. Tube diameter does not matter for this. 1″ is fine. 30mm is fine. Larger tubes usually command a premium because public perception allows for it, but for this application it does not matter.
Burris Fullfield family of scopes is a good example of fairly simple and serviceable scopes as are Vortex Diamondback. I also like Sightron S2 and aforementioned Sig Whiskey3. Sometimes you can find Meopta MeoPro 3-9×40 in this price range. It is definitely a step above and a really nice design. If you want to do some turret twisting, SWFA SS Classic 6×42 is rock solid for around $300 (a lot less than that during Black Friday). There are, of course others and if you are looking at something I did not mention, add a question below.
When I originally started this website one of the things I wanted to do was put together a series of brand overviews. I wrote a few, but then sorta gave up since the brands were changing their product lines quickly enough to make my overviews rapidly obsolete. The ones I wrote several years ago are here. Written 8-9 years ago, they are not terribly relevant today. However, it was interesting to re-read them and see what happened since. For example, Nikon managed to get rid of all the better scopes they had and decided to stick to strictly second tier (and I am being generous) stuff. SWFA stuck with what worked and gradually expanded their SS scope line-up. Burris has largely cleaned up their act and their product line makes sense to me. Leupold has definitely made significant strides in the other direction. While my original musings are not strictly speaking relevant, I kinda enjoyed going over them to see if the trends I saw back then panned out. With that in mind, I decided to add a few overviews of other brands as time allows, starting with March optics.
The reason I chose to start with March, is two fold:
There has been a fair amount of confusion about the company in recent months stemming from them parting ways with their US distributor.
I am revisiting a few of their scopes, so I am up to speed on what they have been up to.
March’s world wide website is www.MarchScopes.com and that will have the most up to date information on the company and their product line. The company that manufactures March scopes is called Deon Optical Design Corporation and that’s their website. The website www.marchoptics.com is owned by March’s former US distributor and, presumably, they are keeping it up as they sell off what little inventory they’ve got remaining. Unfortunately, when people search for March products they often end up on the wrong website and assume that March is going out of business. Nothing could be further from the truth. March seems to be doing just fine and they are working on several new and interesting designs. I am somewhat friendly with the folks at Deon, so I have insight into what’s coming. As is always the case, I can’t divulge too many details, but it seems they are listening to the market and making steps in the right direction. In the US, their scopes are available via SWFA, Europtics and Longrange Shooting Supply. Since I live in the US, I am not up to speed on who distributes them in other countries, but all of that information is on their website.
Here is the links to where they all are on SWFA website:
March makes a ton of different configurations and I am not going to go into detail on all of them all. Instead, I will point out a few highlights and if you have questions about anything specific, please ask me in the comments below.
I had looked at a good number of March scopes years ago, but then largely ignored them since the then new (now former) US distributor and I did not make a good connection. However, I always liked the products, and to a significant degree because of how well they were packaged. March scopes were usually shorter and lighter than the competition, while offering high erector ratios. Now, there are compromises involved with that, but I know what they are, so I can work around them quite comfortably. This makes several March scopes really interesting candidates for what I call “crossover” applications where I can do everything from hunting to precision shooting with the same scope. That’s one of the reasons I ended up looking at them again: I wanted a proper crossover scope for my hunting rifle. I like to practice at distance and a regular hunting scope left me wanting at 1000 yards. I would never take that shot at game, but I shooting at plates is a different ballgame. Besides, my 280Rem is freakishly accurate and stays supersonic well beyond 1k. At around 24 ounces, March’s 3-24×52 is easily one of the better crossover scopes out there, hence my interest.
Generally, March’s product offerings can be loosely divided into four types:
High magnification target scopes
FFP and SFP tactical and precision scopes
FFP and SFP low power variables for general purpose use
I am not much of a target shooter, but I will say that March’s target scopes have absolutely spectacular resolution and some interesting tricks up their sleeve. For example, they have a scope with eyepiece zoom that is effectively a neat trick of adding a little bit of variable magnification to what is effectively a fixed power scope. Their current offerings are 48×52 and 40-60×53 High Master scopes. They have a new optical system they called High Master and it is not restricted to target scopes. I am not crazy about the name, but image quality is absolutely spectacular even for an optics snob like me. The new optical system is also more stable with temperature changes. Apparently, that makes a big difference for F/T airgun shooters who calibrate their parallax for range finding.
The other two categories are closer to what I normally look at, so I have a LOT of mileage with those. The previously mentioned 3-24×52 FFP scope is their light-ish precision and crossover scope. It was preceded by the 3-24×42 that they still make. It was a good scope (I used to own one), but I like the 52mm version more. They also have a 5-40×56 scope and a new 5-42×56 precision scope coming out that looks very promising. With SFP, their range is 2.5-25×42, 2.5-25×52, 5-50×56, 8-80×56, 5-32×52, 10-60×52 and 10-60×56 High Master. There is a lot of overlap there and, honestly, the two that stand out to me are the 2.5-25×52 and 10-60×56 High Master. The 2.5-25×42 is a very nice compact design, but the 52mm version is not that much bigger. These two, aside from the precision applications, also make for very decent hunting scopes. March reticles are on the thin side, so illumination is a good thing to have. With the high magnification scopes, I think the new optical system is worth the extra money. The magnification range does not look as impressive on paper as 8-80x, but there is a tangible improvement to the already good image quality with the High Master optics.
LPVOs are kind of an interesting thing with March. They march (pun intended) to the beat of their own drum, which often produces interesting products that unlike most things out there. They started out with a SFP 1-10×24 scope quite a few years ago that is probably still the best 1-10x on the market today. Unusually for a low power scope, it has parallax adjustment, so it can do just about anything in a pinch from 10 yards on out. The FFP counterpart of this scopes is the 1-8×24 that also has adjustable parallax making it an interesting alround choice. Their newest 1-8x24FFP is the “Shorty” that is barely longer than eight inches and weighs 17 ounces. That’s the scope I am looking at as well, since I want to explore how it might do in a DMR role with a clip-on. March’s FFP scopes have reticle illumination that is not terribly bright, so it does not do much for visibility in bright daylight, but works well otherwise. With SFP scopes, they now have a couple of models with very bright fiber optic illuminated dot (reticles called FD-1 and FD-2 have that). It started out in their 1-4×24 scope (with very large exit pupil on 1x for speed), but it is also available in the 1-10x and, I think, 2.5-25x. They also make a 1-4.5×24 variable for CMP competition, but I have never looked at it, so I do not have much to say on the subject.
Lastly, March has come up with a dedicated riflescope line for ELR shooting, called Genesis. A lot has been written about these, so I am not going to re-hash it too much. Fundamentally, it is a new take on a scope with external adjustments. It really helps with optics, since you are always looking right down the optical axis and it full decouple the adjustment range from any manner of optical considerations. That allows them to get some a really huge adjustment range in a FFP scope with 10x erector ration: 6-60×56. I have seen this scope, but I have not tested it. I have some reservations about the need of 6x for ELR, but it is a really interesting design that is unlike anything else out there.
They have new things coming next year both in terms of scopes and in terms of improved turrets. Honestly, I always thought their turrets were very good, but it looks like they plan to make some improvements to how the zero stop is set up among other things. I’ll do a separate post on that as details become available. I suspect they will have a full announcement at SHOT.
Lately, I seem to make a habit out of taking on scopes that do not have any sort of direct competition to compare them to. That was the case with the somewhat unusually configured Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56. With the Diamondback, I never thought I would run into that same issue. After all, there is no shortage of 4-16×44 or similar scopes. However, once you add FFP and a sophisticated tree reticle, the options dwindle considerably. Add a $350 price tag, and Diamondback Tactical pretty much stands alone. There is a Falcon scope that is somewhat similarly configured, but since I have had dismal luck with Falcons, I am not quite ready to re-visit that. Athlon makes a good range of FFP scopes, but the Argos line does not have anything with appropriate magnification range for this comparison and, to be blunt, I really like Athlon scopes starting with Midas TAC and up. All of those are significantly more expensive than the Diamondback Tactical.
In practical terms, I really have nothing that competes against the Diamondback Tactical head to head. The only other worthwhile precision oriented scopes in the $300 range are fixed power scopes from SWFA. They are very well proven designs with excellent reputaiton for durability and tracking, but aside from being fixed power, they also do not come with a tree reticle.
Since I have mentioned reticles, I might as well explore that in a little more detail: the reticle is what really makes this scope interesting. EBR-2C reticle is the same exact design as Vortex uses in their PST Gen 2 scopes and used to use in the Razor Gen 2 (they have just switched the Razor to a related EBR-7C design, but there are plenty of Razors with EBR-2C floating around). That offers some interesting options in terms of having very similar looking sight picture on a variety of guns. While it would be nice to get a Razor Gen 2 on everything, that is a pretty significant impact on your wallet. Besides, Razor is kinda on the heavy side, so for some guns it is not a great fit balance-wise. On the other hand, I can easily imagine someone having a 4.5-27×56 Razor Gen 2 on a competition bolt gun, PST Gen 2 3-15×44 on an accurate semi-auto and Diamondback Tactical 4-16×44 on a rimfire trainer. That saves you a ton of money and you are developing familiarity with the same reticle all along.
Given the apparent lack of directly comparable design, I put together a spec table of a few FFP scopes in a similar configuration range, but they are all appreciably more expensive than the Diamondback Tactical.
Looking at the specs, there is really nothing hugely unusual about Diamondback Tactical other than the price. Specwise, the only scope that kinda stands out in this group is Delta Titanium with its 1” tube, wide FOV and very limited adjustment range. It also happens to be quite good optically (better than other scopes in this group), but AO is less user friendly than side focus and it has the lowest erector ratio of the three. It is a really interesting design otherwise. Still, it is significantly more expensive than the Diamondback Tactical.
Most of the testing of the Diamondback Tactical was done on an accurate large frame AR chambered for 243Win. Honestly, it was really uneventful. I shoot with very fancy scopes and, obviously, Diamondback Tactical is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta any time soon. However, it did everything I asked of it and did it well. Most importantly, once zero’ed, it stayed zero’ed.
The reticle, obviously, is the standout feature of this scope and the bulk of the shooting I did was without messing with the turrets at all. The way the reticle is sized, I can use the tree portion fairly comfortable from 8x and up. On 4x it looks like a thin German #4 reticle. Honestly, the only feedback I really gave to Vortex regarding this scope was to lock the turrets and add an illuminated dot. That would probably make it $400 instead of $350, but they would never be able to keep it in stock. To be fair, I think the scope has exceeded their expectations as is. Here is what the reticle looks like on 16x, 12x, 8x and 4x.
Speaking of the turrets: they are of a non-locking variety. The turrets are exposed and there is no zero stop. Each click is 0.1 mrad and there are 6 mrad per turn. Honestly, since I was mostly interested in the reticle I was planning to ignore the turrets altogether, but the gentleman I talk to at Vortex kinda suggested that the turrets will surprise me. He is sort of an understated kind of a gentleman, and if he offers an opinion on something, I pay attention. I went ahead and tested the turrets under recoil and without it. I only tested them for one revolution ( 6 mrad ), but I spent some time on them and they were absolutely spot on for those 6 mrad. Clicks have good feel. There is no hysteresis. Windage and Elevation turrets are reasonably decoupled from each other. I did not push them all the way to the edge of the adjustment, but the 6 mrad square after zeroing in a 20 MOA mount, there were no issues whatsoever.
They are reasonably tactile and somewhat low profile. There is enough resistance in the clicks to not worry too much about inadvertently shifting them, but I would have preferred some sort of a locking feature. They are resettable, however, which was useful. The way the turret cap latches onto the stem, there are fine teeth that have to engage. Once the turret is on there, it is not going to slip and there is no adjustment slop worth worrying about.
Optically, the scope was pretty solid for the price. There was some flare, but it was not excessive. Sun shade really helps. Resolution was perfectly respectable. Not great, but not bad either. You can tell the scope is built to hit a price target, but but it seemed competitive with other sub-$400 variable scopes I have seen. Contrast was a bit on the low side, but then again: show me a sub-$400 FFP scope that does better. I am not aware of any. I think this one is better optically than Falcons I have seen and Athlon Argos. There is minimal tunneling on low power, so you can pretty much use the entire magnification range. On 4x, there is a good bit of distortion as you move your eye behind the eyepiece, but not enough to bother me. It is noticeable, but not bothersome.
I did not spend any sort of time exploring image quality deterioration toward the edges of adjsutment, since this is not the scope I would want to push too much in terms of adjustment range. While it tracked fine, if you primary purpose is spinning the turrets, you should be giving SWFA SS 3-15×42 a close look. With Diamondback Tactical, in my opinion, you should really focus on using the reticle for distance and wind compensation.
Diamondback Tactical is, provisionally, added to my list of recommendations, primarily to be used as a 22LR or airgun trainer scope. The recommendation is provisional because the design is fairly new and I am going to track how well it stays zeroed. Vortex has had some trouble keeping up with demand for this scope, so there should be a good number of these out there, i.e. I expect to have reasonable reliability statistics fairly soon.
– 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
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
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
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
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:
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
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:
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
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 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
Mechanical testing apparatus and target
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
PA Platinum 1-8×24
March 1-8×24 “Shorty”
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
4 – 3.5
4 – 3.9
3.98 – 3.83
3.4 – 3.9
105 – 12.5
109 – 13.1
114.8 – 14.5
106 – 13
107 – 13
105.8 – 13.25
105.8 – 13.2
12 – 3
11.8 – 3.5
16.6 – 3.2
7.9 – 3
12 – 3
11.7 – 3
9.6 – 3
Adjustment per turn
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.
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.
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.
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.