David vs. Goliath, East vs. West… the analogies abound, but my goal here is to evaluate these FFP high erector, high magnification juggernauts to find out how they perform and what benefits or drawbacks you can expect to see from the two different designs. The Schmidt & Bender requires no introduction as it has served as the “elite class” of sport optics for many years and while March has been around for a number of years as well, this boutique Japanese manufacturer has most of its loyalists from the F Class division and is wanting to make a bigger impact in the FFP market. This new scope represents the first FFP scope using their new High Master glass.
Please keep in mind that while I try to evaluate each scope based on its own merits, I am human and am prone to err at times. This review is not intended to be exhaustive as both these scopes are on loan and I only have limited time to evaluate. My goal with this review is to evaluate mechanical functionality which is different from mechanical accuracy, you should always conduct your own tests to ensure mechanical accuracy when you purchase a scope.
The very first difference is immediately obvious in the image above, once you pull them from the package, the Schmidt is ginormous while the March is smaller than many 5-25 scopes today (hence the David vs. Goliath reference) and while one might immediately gravitate towards the shorter scope there are some pros and cons which are discussed later on when combining high magnification erectors with short body (or short focal length) designs.
Keep in mind this evaluation is based on my own personal observations based on what my eyes “see” when looking through the scope. My eyes are very sensitive to CA for example while some people cannot or have difficulty seeing CA when looking through the same scope. The point is that everyone’s eyes are different, and my observations will undoubtedly be different from others. That being said I try to be as objective as possible but, like all of us, do have my bias’s but try my best to keep my reviews as unbiased as I can. It should also be noted that I am not paid by anyone to do these reviews, this started years ago on Snipers Hide when I was trying to choose a light weight tactical scope that performed well in low light situations, recommendations covered high and low and ultimately I decided the only way to know for sure was to get all the scopes that fell within my criteria and see for myself (personal observation), sure I lost some money in it, but had decided that was worth the cost vs. getting a scope that ultimately would not satisfy my requirements.
I would like to thank March scopes in Japan for providing the March 5-42×56 High Master scope and Eurooptic.com for providing the Schmidt & Bender 5-45×56 High Power for this review. If either of these scopes interest you I recommend checking them out at Eurooptic using the following links:
The below specs are provided by the manufacturers which makes a good baseline of what these scopes offer.
As mentioned previously, the most notable difference comes in size, the Schmidt represents the traditional “long” scope design while the March represents the newer trend of “short” scope designs. But other areas of note are:
- Weight: The Schmidt is a half-pound heavier
- Field of view (FOV): March uses a 26° wide angle eyepiece offering greater FOV throughout the magnification range
- Turret Clicks: Schmidt uses .05 mil clicks while March uses .1 mil clicks
- Total Elevation Adjustment: March offers 13 mils more total elevation
- Close focus distance: Schmidt has a decent 30m while March offers down to 10 yards
One other area of note is that while March is using mrad (milliradian) for the gradation values (like most other scopes in this class), Schmidt is using CM (centimeter) value; the clicks and values can be converted to the same, but you have to divide the Schmidt’s numbers by 10 in order to get the mrad equivalent – so 5 becomes .5 mrad and 60 becomes 6 mrad and so forth. Another reason why I do not like this method of measurement is that it gives the impression that the click value is linear when in fact it is angular – it serves to confuse between inches and centimeters vs. mrad and moa which are completely different.
As I mentioned above this review does not cover the accuracy of each scope but covers the functionality – since any manufacturer is capable of producing a lemon it’s always a good idea to test your scope to ensure its accuracy.
Schmidt & Bender DT II+ turrets
This is my first experience with the new Schmidt DT II+ and having used both the standard PM II turrets and Ultra Short turrets in the past, Schmidt has knocked this one out of the park, not just in terms of feel but with very little to no play and very distinct clicks. While the Schmidt offers only 6 mrad per revolution, each click is actually only .05 mrad in spacing so you are getting the same amount of clicks per rev as a standard turret with 12 mrad per rev, so while each click is half as fine as the standard .1 mrad turret the spacing is still very manageable. I believe Schmidt’s ultimate goal with this scope is the ELR crowd and when shooting 2000+ yards the finer adjustments will come in handy especially if dialing for wind. One other type of shooting both the magnification and finer adjustments will come in handy for is rimfire competition, but the sheer size of this scope will intimidate any short barreled rimfire rifle. The added benefit of the DT II+ system is you have a lever for both elevation and windage that allows 3 settings: Locked, Unlocked with MTC and Unlocked without MTC (for those who may not know, MTC stands for More Tactile Clicks which means every full mrad value the click is stiffer than the rest providing a “more tactile” response). When in the locked position there is no play or movement in the turret. It should be noted that I had issue with previous generation MTC turrets, the full mil stronger click was so strong it would cause me to inadvertently overtravel by .1-.2 clicks coming out or going back which if I had a solution of 5.1 mils I would overtravel to 5.2 or 5.3 and would then have to dial back causing delay; however, the DT II+ MTC has rectified that and feels like the ideal weight without having to jump forward to get out of the full mrad value. Someone at Schmidt has been paying attention! The turrets are very tall but fit well ergonomically with the overall size of the scope and the top of the housing has a lighthouse window which displays the number for the revolution you are currently on. The Schmidt turrets are non-translatable which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions – I tend to prefer this method. I would rate these turrets as the best yet from Schmidt and Bender and arguably close to Tangent Theta in quality.
March FFP High Master turrets
When I first heard I was going to get the opportunity to test the new March 5-42×56 High Master I was mostly looking forward to seeing how this new “High Master” glass looked compared to previous March glass. Having reviewed the March 3-24×42 and 3-24×52 FFP scopes previously and being impressed with the glass and build quality coming from Japan I was anxious to see what improvements they could make, but what I was not expecting was the quality of the new locking turrets provided with the new March scope. The turrets available on the 3-24 left much to be desired but get the job done, landing on their appropriate marks consistently but with a bit of play followed by a mushy feeling. The new turrets leave the play and mushiness in the dust and offer one of the nicest and most distinct clicks I’ve felt in a long range scope; click values come in the standard .1 mrad per click and 10 mrads per turn. Not only are the clicks superb but you’ll also notice the face of both the elevation and windage turrets which share a lever with a blue and red dot, blue means unlocked and red means lock and one flip of the switch to locked and there is no play, no movement whatsoever, the turret is frozen in time until you move it back. The turrets are of the translatable kind which means the turret housing itself will rise and fall depending on the direction you spin the turret; my preference is for non-translatable turrets but this is more personal preference as both do the same thing. On the flip side of the windage turret comes an anomaly with the inclusion of a locking mechanism for the parallax wheel, I have not seen a great need from the community asking for this feature but it is there nonetheless in case you are one of the few who find yourself accidentally bumping your parallax out of alignment. The final unique feature about this turret design is the zero stop which March is calling “0-set” and is done using a hex key at the top of the elevation turret, a novel approach – after you reset zero using the side hex bolts, you can set your zero stop anywhere you’d like but it is a tension stop and not a mechanical stop in that if you really crank the turret hard you can move past the stop point; for those who rely on predictable zero stop in low light situations this may be something that takes some getting used to.
Turret Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Turret Click Spacing – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 9
This is more or less a personal preference, but my hand feels better with wider spacing. Tangent Theta is the best I have felt from a 15 mil per rev turret while the Nightforce has one of the best 12 mil turrets in the ATACR series and the Schmidt DT II+ aligns with the ATACR as some of the best 120 click per rev turrets, but I must admit I think I like the new March turrets best of all with the distinct clicks of each .1 mil value and 10 mil per rev spacing. The Schmidt is not far behind though giving up very little to the feel and functionality of the March.
Turret Click Feel – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 9
This can be very subjective, but I am drawn to more distinct click sounds with very little play between marks, the March has very distinct clicks with very little play, the Schmidt is slightly less distinct with slightly tighter spacing but very little play.
Turret Alignment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 9 | Schmidt – 10
Both Schmidt and March turrets aligned perfectly through my testing running the turret out to the extreme and back. Because of the March’s translatable design, it does rise pretty high above the center mark which gives a slight perception you are off mark if your eye is not perfectly centered.
Turret Reset Zero and Zero Stop – Tie: March – 8 | Schmidt – 8
In order to reset zero on both scopes you have to loosen the side hex bolts on the turret housing, then spin the turret to align zero and re-tighten, this is typical of most long range scopes today and is only bested by the toolless design of the Tangent Theta turrets. Schmidt comes with a factory preset zero stop while March offers the hex key adjustable zero stop mechanism. I wish more manufacturers would come out with toolless designs or offer a convenient hex key in the turret housing like Kahles. There is definitely room for improvement from all manufacturers.
Turret Locking Mechanism – Advantage Schmidt: March – 9 | Schmidt – 10
Both Schmidt and March offer a locking mechanism, the Schmidt places theirs at the back of each turret while March places theirs on the top of each turret. Both are rock solid when in the locked position but the Schmidt offers one feature the March does not have with the MTC option.
Total Travel Adjustment – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 8
For an ELR scope the Schmidt seems to be shortchanged a bit in the elevation department, especially with other scopes from the manufacturer offering 35 mrad of travel, the 5-45 only has 27 mrad of travel; however, at .05 mrad per click it is double the clicks of traditional .1 mrad click scopes. The March on the other hand offers a class leading 40 mrad of elevation which is going to be appreciated by the ELR crowd. On the windage side the March offers over double the travel of the Schmidt with 14.8 mrad of travel vs. Schmidt’s 6 mrad.
Overall Turret Mechanical Assessment – Advantage March: March – 56 | Schmidt – 54 (60 points possible)
Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization. I would rank these turrets as among the best available today. It should be noted that the Schmidt has the windage zero offset at the 11 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position, this does make it a little difficult to identify where true zero is if you dial elevation, if you hold elevation it may not be that big of a deal.
Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Magnification Ring Movement – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 8
While the Schmidt boasts a greater 9x magnification range vs. 8.4x on the March, the magnification throw is much wider and my particular model exhibited a slight rough feel while the March throw was shorter and very smooth throughout the entire range. Of note is that the Schmidt increases magnification in a CCW direction while the March is the opposite in the CW direction.
Parallax knob Movement – Tie: March – 9 | Schmidt – 9
Both March and Schmidt exhibited very smooth parallax adjustment, March has a locking mechanism on the parallax which is a first I’ve seen and the jury is still out on whether or not this is actually a benefit.
Parallax Adjustment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 7 | Schmidt – 9
Schmidt has numbers marked while March has a symbol indicating smaller to larger. Schmidt had more forgiving parallax when transitioning between objects both far and near while the March had to be “fine-tuned” in order to correct for parallax. One must be aware that parallax correction does not always equate to an in-focus image so time was taken to ensure parallax was correctly adjusted for.
Diopter Adjustment – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 8
Both the March and the Schmidt offer a “fast focus” diopter allowing for quicker adjustments, March offers a threaded locking mechanism to help keep the adjustment from moving after being set.
Illumination Dial – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 7
Schmidt still uses an illumination tumor that is separate from the turret housing while almost every other manufacturer has gone to putting the illumination settings in line with the parallax adjustment. March is using a rubber cover over a push button for on/off functionality with numbers 1-6 on the dial while Schmidt uses a rheostat style to go from off to full power.
Overall Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment – Advantage March: March – 43 | Schmidt – 41 (50 points possible)
Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization. I would rank these turrets as among the best available today.
One of the most difficult areas to ascertain with any manufacturer is the quality of glass they use in a given scope model, or rather, how the image looks to the shooters eye when viewing the FOV through the scope. Traditionally when it comes to optics one generally “gets what they pay for” and hence the higher end optics tend to have the higher end prices; however, with new design technologies we’ve seen some scopes punch above their weight class. It is impossible to take images through the scope to show the quality of the image to the naked eye, this is because any image taking system also has its own lens system which introduces its own optical aberrations and if the system is better aligned on one scope verses another it may throw off values, so you will not see any through the scope images because I do not want to skew opinion based on IQ of one image over another. So for this evaluation I took meticulous notes based on my naked eye observations under as best controlled conditions I could get outdoors.
Optical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Resolution (Center) – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 8
Looking through both scopes at distance (1000 yards) you are often dealing with atmospherics that can wreak havoc for any optical system, both these scopes performed very well out to 1000 yards, so well that I had to throw up my resolution chart and evaluate line resolution at close range so atmospherics had minimal effect, when testing in these conditions the center resolution victor became clear, the March was able to resolve about 10% better than the Schmidt throughout the magnification range above 10x.
Resolution (Edge) – Advantage Schmidt: March – 7 | Schmidt – 9
The Schmidt had the clear advantage in edge to edge sharpness throughout the magnification range. The sweet spot for the Schmidt appeared to be in the 5-20x magnification range while the sweet spot for the March was between 20-25x. March is utilizing a brand new 26° wide angle eyepiece that offers and HD viewing experience similar to the ZCO with very thin outer edges while looking through the scope, but as a result of this wide angle design one of the effects is the edge distortion which is apparent throughout the magnification range – one of the drawbacks to such enormous FOV and a tradeoff the shooter will have to decide.
Color/Contrast – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 8
When I bought my March 3-24×52 I currently owned a Schmidt ultra short 5-20 and was surprised to find the March, with its 8x erector design, faired very well in color/contrast to the Schmidt’s 4x erector design. Likewise, with the new High Master scope I was surprised to see that the March does very well with maintaining contrast and color and doing so better than the Schmidt up until 25x, at 20x the Schmidt exhibited what appeared to be flare while the March in the same conditions held a very strong image, at 25x and higher both scopes showed increased degradation in color and contrast.
Chromatic Aberrations (CA) – Advantage Schmidt: March – 7 | Schmidt – 9
A hotly debated topic – CA, which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target but can affect the clarity of the target. One situation I noticed is that while the March maintained excellent control over center CA I was able to observe more CA towards the edges, I believe this may have to do more with the wide angle eyepiece due to the curvature of the lens – sacrifice a bit of CA and sharpness to gain greater FOV is the tradeoff here. One other area is CA sensitivity with lateral movement off the center of the scope, you can quickly induce CA in these situations which are often rectified by proper cheekweld/eye placement behind the center of the scope. Up to 15x both scopes handled CA very well both center and edge, but above 15x the Schmidt showed better control of edge CA most likely due to the more traditional (longer) scope tube and resulting optical formula. The March suffered most with edge CA and some CA in certain conditions were observable around the black reticle and numbers.
Depth of Field (DOF) – Advantage Schmidt: March – 7 | Schmidt – 9
The Schmidt has extraordinary DOF, objects outside of the plane of focus maintain sharpness and detail for quite a distance, the March is not as forgiving and has to be dialed a lot more with finesse of the parallax wheel – fine adjustments are necessary and both ends of the magnification range with the sweet spot coming between 20-25x offering the most forgiveness. With the Schmidt it wasn’t until about 30x that DOF began to fall off some.
Field of View (FOV) – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 9
For the longest time the scopes that boasted some of the widest FOV have been the Optronika inspired class of 5-25×56 scopes (e.g. Tangent Theta, Minox ZP5 and Premier Heritage) but when Schmidt introduced the 5-45×56 a few years ago it took the crown in the long range scope market, but the new March 5-42×56 High Master with its 26° eyepiece is the new king of the hill. Even the new Nightforce NX8 and Burris XTR III series with their impressive FOV numbers can’t really compete leaving the March in a category unto its own. Outside of the specs which offer FOV numbers at the low and high magnification settings, at 15x I was able to determine on both scopes how many mils could be viewed. The following numbers are from center so to get the full FOV value just multiply x2:
|Mag||March 5-42||Schmidt 5-45|
|15x||15.5 mrad||13.7 mrad|
|20x||11.7 mrad||10.2 mrad|
|25x||9.5 mrad||8.4 mrad|
|30x||7.8 mrad||6.9 mrad|
|35x||6.7 mrad||5.9 mrad|
|42x||5.5 mrad||5.0 mrad|
Eyebox – Tie: March – 8 | Schmidt – 8
I have seen varied definitions of eyebox in the community, so to be clear, here is my definition which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope. Both the March and the Schmidt showed decent eyebox forgiveness through about 30x with both getting more finicky at higher magnifications. The March seemed to have a slight edge in eyebox forgiveness around 25x.
Twilight Transmission (low light performance) – advantage March: March – 8 | Schmidt – 7
To be honest, I did not spend much time with these scopes in low light situations but both of them showed impressive results after the sun went down, the March seemed to maintain a slight bit more color fidelity while both scopes were “bright” when magnification was set appropriately.
Overall Optical Assessment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 66 | Schmidt – 67 (80 points possible)
The Schmidt has a brilliant image from edge to edge with excellent color and contrast while the March has some edge distortion but makes up for it with higher center resolution and brilliant color, possibly the best color/contrast I’ve seen. The Schmidt manages CA slightly better while the March offers enormous FOV throughout the magnification range. The Schmidt has very forgiving DOF while the March is more finicky requiring a lot more adjustment of the side focus setting. The Goldilocks zone (superb optical performance) for the Schmidt was between 5-20x while the March was between 20-25x during my testing.
Special Note on Resolution: As mentioned previously the center resolution between both scopes appeared very close during my normal testing so I decided to throw up my resolution chart at close range (to minimize atmospheric interference) and see how many lines my eyes could differentiate before they blended together, as you can see in the chart below as you move from left to right the lines get closer together, with each scope I would place the optical center/crosshair where the lines began to blur together and I would note which section that occurred.
The results were surprising because the March was the clear winner at every magnification, and you’ll notice there was some falloff with the Schmidt above 30x where resolution actually dropped with 35x exhibiting the worst performance throughout the range. So I had to ask myself why, during normal testing, did it appear the Schmidt may have been sharper and I believe that because the Schmidt has better edge to edge sharpness it tricked my eyes into thinking the overall image was as sharp or sharper than the March. I think further testing is necessary with equipment beyond what I have available to me to more accurately assess the lp/mm but the below chart shows what I saw with my eyes; keep in mind these are indicative of the units I had on hand and sample variance could have an effect on results for your individual scope.
|Mag||March 5-42||Schmidt 5-45|
|15x||40-45 lp/mm||35-40 lp/mm|
|20x||50 lp/mm||40-45 lp/mm|
|25x||60 lp/mm||50 lp/mm|
|30x||60 lp/mm||50 lp/mm|
|35x||70 lp/mm||40 lp/mm|
|40x||60-70 lp/mm||45-50 lp/mm|
RETICLE & ILLUMINATION
One of the most important choices one can make in a long range scope today is the reticle, this is, after all, what you will see every single time you bring the scope to your eye so it’s important to make sure that it fits the needs or your shooting style. That being said, reticle selection or preference is extremely subjective and saying Brand X reticle is “the best” is like saying “Brand X vanilla ice cream is the best” – we all have different tastes and the good news is that there are many, many options available to the long range community. With this in mind, my ratings below should be taken with a grain of salt because they are based on MY preference, but I will explain what I like and why, which should help you understand if it might be something you would like or not like even though I may have a differing opinion.
Reticle & Illumination Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Reticle Usability – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 7
The reticle in the March is their new FML-TR1 which is a superb design created by none other than the Dark Lord of Optics himself. The reticle provided in the Schmidt is their new LRR-MIL design. Both are a newer .2 mil hash design with the TR1 offering a Christmas tree and the LRR with no tree but a ranging grid. The LRR-MIL is thin, we’re talking very thin, thinner than the SCR2 Mil reticle in the new Burris XTR III which I thought was too thin, the center dot all but disappears unless the background is a solid light color, like a target painted white. I do not like the sentences written in the reticle and the ranging grid takes up a lot of space. Reticle was unusable below 15x. The FML-TR1 on the other hand has become my favorite reticle, everything is based off .2 mil distance, even the gaps so you always know it’s .2 mil. When I first saw the specs for the reticle, I was worried the center would be too thick, but it is ideal in my book offering the perfect balance and allowing it to be usable even at 5x. The Christmas tree is made up of small dots and practically disappears if you’re not using it which is how I prefer tree reticles.
Illumination Color and Brightness – Advantage Schmidt: March – 6 | Schmidt – 8
Both scopes offer red illumination as the only option. Schmidt has always had lackluster performance when it comes to brightness, but sufficient for low light engagements, previous March scopes have been about on par with neither offering a “daylight” bright reticle. But that has changed with the Schmidt 5-45, this is the brightest illumination I’ve seen from the German manufacturer and is usable during daylight, while the March has improved on previous performance but still does not deliver a daylight bright illumination out of their module, although it is ample for low light situations. Both scopes did not exhibit any noticeable bleed in very low light but both designs only illuminate the very center cross of the design.
Overall Reticle & Illumination Assessment – Advantage March: March – 16 | Schmidt – 15 (20 points possible)
The Schmidt LRR-Mil seems optimized for purely ELR and/or rimfire work where precision is of utmost importance, for me personally I found the reticle to be too thin in almost every situation. The FML-TR1 on the other hand feels at home for just about any situation, the center may be a bit too think for some tastes with ELR or if you shoot .17 caliber primarily but one benefit is that once you move out of the center (like you would if holding wind) the rest of the reticle is more thin. My personal opinion is that the FML-TR1 is the best crossover reticle I’ve seen yet and by crossover, I mean it is as much at home on a competition long range rifle as it is on a hunting rig whereas the LRR-Mil I would never consider for a hunting application.
Overall Ergonomic Assessment – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 7 (10 points possible)
Schmidt continues to excel with traditional designs in long range scopes, clearly they have some of the best glass and best fit and finish of any scope on the market; however, the “long” scope is getting just that… putting a scope the size of a baseball bat on your rifle is falling out of favor especially with the competition crowd; the newer shorter scope designs are beginning to take hold within the marketplace and the March offers almost the same magnification while reducing size and weight considerably. Schmidt really needs to get rid of that illumination tumor and free up more space on the tube for mounting options and while the new DT II+ turrets are the best from Schmidt to date the overall ergonomic winner is March with its short body and astonishingly good locking turrets, the scope looks at home on any rifle from short covert styles to the beastly ELR rigs.
FIT & FINISH
Overall Fit & Finish Assessment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 8.5 | Schmidt – 9 (10 points possible)
As good as the March is in overall craftsmanship, and it is superb… the best I’ve seen from Japan, earning it a spot in the ranks of alpha class scopes that are dominated by European craftsmanship, I do have to give the nod to Schmidt & Bender with overall fit and finish. Quality reeks from this scope everywhere you look, the smoothness of each mechanical feature, the precise fit of every single part abounds with the precision that German manufacturing is known for. All that being said March has their own set of impeccable crafts-men and women who are hand assembling each and every scope, if Schmidt gets a 9 then March is hot on their heals with an 8.5, we are truly splitting hairs when it comes to the fit and finish of each of these scopes – as it should be with the alpha class.
Overall Price Assessment – Advantage March: March – 7 | Schmidt – 5 (10 points possible)
Most knowledgeable shooters are aware that the alpha class of sport optics is not cheap, you’re guaranteed to pay in the thousands for these top quality optics, but the March and Schmidt scopes really push the wallet to the limit. MSRP for the March comes in at $4200 while the Schmidt is at $5650! Street price you can expect to pay less, check with eurooptic.com for the best price available.
Final Score – Advantage March: March – 205.5 | Schmidt – 198 (out of 240 possible points)
The final results are very close and I could easily see any one shooter choosing one scope over the other. But at the end of the day the March just has so much going for it: less expensive, shorter, lighter, more ergonomic with superb turrets, High Master glass with amazing color/contrast and outstanding center resolution with an industry leading FOV, and throw in a fantastic new reticle in the FML-TR1. The Schmidt bests the March in several areas including edge to edge sharpness, overall fit and finish, MTC clicks DOF and forgiving parallax. The Schmidt also separates itself by being a dedicated ELR or rimfire scope while the March seems to be more of a “one size fits all” design that can find its home on just about any rifle out there. If the features of the Schmidt suit your fancy more than March you won’t find an argument from me, but if the March finds its way into your heart with all it offers I think you will be pleasantly surprised and at over $1400 less your wallet will be thanking you as well.
Areas of Improvement
The first item that comes to mind is for March to design non-translatable turrets, that is – turrets that do not rise and fall as you spin them up or down. Move the zero set hex key under the locking lever to protect debris from hindering operation. Get an illumination module like so many other new scopes that have excellent low light quality with no bleed but also bright enough to be used when the sun is out. Find that Goldilocks zone between magnification and scope length which allows for much more forgiving DOF and parallax.
Get rid of the illumination tumor already! A PM III series with shortened bodies (doesn’t have to be ultra short short) for many of their long range scopes (e.g. 5-25, 3-27 and 5-45) would be welcomed. The LRR-Mil reticle falls short in some areas and the GR2ID reticle is a bit too busy for some, it would behoove Schmidt to send some of their German engineers designing these to the good ol’ US of A and get input from the PRS/NRL crowd. There’s a reason why the Kahles SKMR series, the ZCO MPCT series, the Nightforce Mil-C/XT and Tangent Theta’s new Gen 3XR have captured so many competitors hearts. Years ago Minox accomplished this feat with the MR4 and now March with the FML-TR1 – it is time for Schmidt to finally get it right when it comes to a good .2 mil Christmas tree reticle that’s not too thin and not too busy.
About the author:
Bill has been around firearms since he was a young boy and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game. Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist). Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself. Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsmen.
Table of Contents:
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– 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.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
For optical comparisons with the Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56,I had the entire suite of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision riflescopes 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, Sightron S-TAC 4-20x50FFPZSIRMH, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. It should be noted that, at the time of this writing, the Nikon was not present to be compared as the example. It had proved defective, was returned, and its replacement had not yet arrived. Testing of all the scopes was done in accordance with the same methodology that I have used now for a number of years.
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:
– 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
– 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:
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– 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.
Testing was done in accordance with the same methodology that I have used now for a number of years.
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 turn.
When tracking, the adjustments deviate from true in a non linear fashion.
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 that far.
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:
-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
-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
The shooter’s view behind the Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP scope
Les (Jim) Fischer
Written: Nov 15, 2019
Table of Contents:
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– Comparative Optical Evaluation
– Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion
– Summary and Conclusion
– Testing Methodology
Meopta is 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.
The Meopta 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 click off.
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:
-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
-Good warranty and reputation
-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
- ELR scopes
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.
|Delta Titanium 4.5-14x44FFP||SWFA SS 3-15×42||Vortex Diamondback Tactical 4-16×44||Athlon Midas TAC 4-16×44||Athlon Ares BTR 2.5-15×50|
|Main Tube Diameter||1″||30mm||30mm||30mm||30mm|
|Eye Relief, in||3 – 3.5||4.2 – 3.8||3.8||3.7||3.9”|
|FOV, ft@1000yards||21.8 – 9.33 |
13 @ 10x
|34.78 – 7.21 |
10.8 @ 10x
|26.9 – 6.7 |
10.7 @ 10x
|27.7 – 7 |
11.2 @ 10x
|41.8 – 6.8 |
10.2 @ 10x
|Click Value||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad|
|Adjustment range||5 mrad||36 mrad||25 mrad||E: 30 mradW: 15 mrad||29 mrad|
|Adjustment per turn||5 mrad||5 mrad||6 mrad||10 mrad||10 mrad|
|Parallax||AO 10m||SF 6m||SF 20 yards||SF 20 yards||SF 10 yards|
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.
Les (Jim) Fischer
Written: Sept 9, 2018
Table of Contents:
– Unboxing and Physical Description
– 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
Sightron is best known in the target shooting community for producing solid no frills scopes at prices lower than comparable competitors. Sightron has always appeared to be low on advertising expenditures and behind the curve on features, but their quality, price, and customer service has been good.
A few years ago I spent a long time at the Sightron booth talking to one of their reps about the features necessary for precision rifle shooting, price points, where I saw gaps in the market, and why none of their current products did what I wanted them to do. It felt like a productive conversation. I found out some useful information about what they thought it would cost them to do this or that and I hope they found it useful as well. I remember specifically focusing on mid range FFP mil/mil stuff around $1k and low cost 2FP mil/mil stuff. They have since added the mid range FFP mil/mil scope in this review, a higher cost FFP mil/mil ED offering, and will soon be doing some lower cost FFP mil/mil stuff as well. Maybe I even had something to do with this. Either way, they now have some offerings that I find interesting.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
The Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH is a little surprising when it comes to the extras in the box. Instead of the near ubiquitous plastic scope caps, it includes a sunshade, scopecote, and lens cloth. It is both different than what I expected and also a bit more. As far as documentation goes, the SIII includes a manual that appears to be generic to all Sightron scopes and an insert specific to this model which has a dimensioned diagram of the reticle and some mil equations. I was able to give myself a nice big pat on the back for thoroughness by finding the mil equations in the insert and one of the tables in the booklet to be in error. I’ll bet it was a fun time in the office when that memo came rolling through. I suspect I was the only party involved who enjoyed himself. A party of one is still a party though, right? In any case, the equation in the insert is fixed now and hopefully the table in the manual is being updated as well.
The scope itself looks and feels very clean. It is a Japanese produced product and has the top shelf fit and finish you generally see in products coming out of Japan. The knobs are just 5 mils per turn instead of the more common 10 mils, but feel very good. They are neither squishy nor those ones that are so stiff its difficult to click just one increment . Similarly, the stiffness on the parallax and fast focus eye piece are also quite pleasing. The styling is sort of hunter with just a slight nod to tactical in the knurled and uncapped adjustments. The optic is relatively long at 14.96″, narrow with a 50mm objective, and light at 23.8 oz. These factors, along with the 4x erector ratio and the simple objective lens group I have observed indicate a pretty conservative optical design. This is not surprising given how economical this optic is relative to others with similar optical and production quality. It should also work out very well when it comes to the optical performance later on in the testing. In keeping with the simple theme, the model is un-illuminated and has no zero stop or lock on the adjustments, though the zero can be reset.
The markings on the knobs must have been something of a debate within Sightron because, in addition the included knobs, there are a few you can buy aftermarket with better markings. The included knobs are marked in a not so contrasty gold script every 5 clicks with, unaccountably, the number of clicks rather than any actual angular dimension. You can partially remedy this with a gold sharpie by adding a decimal point to make the clicks mils instead. The properly done what they call “tactical knobs” use a higher visibility white script and are labeled in mils every .5 mils. The elevation on those knobs also has additional lines for other turns and the windage is marked to 2.5 mils R or L. I believe this scope will fit the 74007 knob that has markings up to 15 mils as well as the listed 74006 one which has markings only to 10 mils. With a 20MOA base, this scope may actually have slightly more than 15mil of travel depending on your rifle’s zero. Evidently, the argument about which knobs to include in the box was won by someone who has never shot at distances requiring significant drop compensation – perhaps it was our trigonomically challenged manual writer. Either way, the properly marked knobs are $50 each so… probably sharpie.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH Unboxing
There are not a lot of options in general around Sightron’s SIII front focal plane line. Actually, there are exactly two, mil or MOA. Both the mil and MOA versions have a reticle matched to their adjustments and only that one reticle. In both cases these reticles are quite simple. The mil version has no labels, but features markings at 1 mil and .5 mil increments with .25 mil markings for the first mil and the target dot type floating center that seems to be the current trend for whatever reason. The reticle is itself on the fine side of spectrum in terms line thickness. I am, and have always been, in favor of fine reticles. I have found them to be more precise, a bit faster, and far more comfortable. Thick caterpillar reticles always give me the same feeling as a gnat flying around my head. I just want to swat them out of my view. Overall, there is really nothing special about the SIII’s mil reticle but also nothing particularly problematic. It is really a pretty good design for broad appeal. I don’t think anybody will hate it, but it is also not going to be anybody’s favorite and that is pretty much how I feel about it as well.
In testing, the reticle showed no deviation in size from the correct dimensions and also showed no can’t relative to the adjustments. So spot on with that.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH reticle on an optical test pattern
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
The Sightron SIII arrived earlier this year than any of the other test scopes and coincided perfectly with the first of the two review rifles for the year, the Kelbly Atlas Tactical and Mesa Precision Arms Crux. The timing was quite fortuitous as the SIII has a higher magnification than any of my personal scopes and also has a nice fine reticle. These two characteristics are of great importance for accuracy testing rifles. This gave me a great opportunity to have a lot of time behind the optic before any of the systematic optical and mechanical testing. I was quite pleased with the SIII’s performance during this rifle testing. In particular, it struck me as very good optically, resolving impacts with such alacrity that my estimations of group sizes while firing strings proved to be spot on.
For optical comparisons to this Sightron SIII, I had the other scopes in this series of sub $1k FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope review, the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 mm, and Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, as well as two that have been used as comparisons by me in previous reviews for context, the Leupold Mk 6 3-18×44 and my old (and now discontinued) Zeiss conquest 4.5-14×44. All of these scopes were lined up together on a 5 slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now.
I have never before had a set of 5 scopes with such generally close optical performance. Usually, scopes somewhat sort themselves into performance tiers with higher tier scopes being better than lower tier scopes in pretty much all characteristics. That was not even remotely the case with this lineup. No scope was always first or last when evaluating particular performance parameters and the order of the scopes rankings changed with pretty much every particular parameter being evaluated. That being said, the Sightron SIII was, on balance, the best. It particularly excelled when it came to resolution, contrast, stray light handling, low light performance, and, unsurprisingly given its conservative design, depth of field. With regard to the eyebox, it was more middle of the pack, though it did not feel tight, cramped, or finicky, but rather seemed large enough. Similarly, it was close to average in chromatic aberration, though the field all performed well in this regard. The only parameter where the SIII’s performance was sub-average for the group was in field of view. I did not notice any particular favor given to this or that end of the spectrum by the SIII such as is the way some scopes tend to favor greens or reds. Instead, the SIII seemed pretty balanced.
To some extent, I expected the SIII to have the best overall optical performance. It fits with the narrative of few features and high quality that I was expecting by reputation. To me, the SIII is what you get when you set out to see just how low cost you can make something of a high standard and still have what you need to shoot long range. You use a simple optical design and turrets, drop some features like illumination, and streamline the distribution by removing virtually all the options, variations, and most of the marketing budget. What you would expect would be excellent performance for the price and that is what the SIII delivers optically.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
As mentioned in the unboxing section, the SIII features simple 5 mil per turn adjustment knobs with no zero stop or turn indicator and a less than ideal marking scheme, but with great feel. The zero setting on these knobs is done with a single torx screw on top. Testing the accuracy of these adjustments was done in accordance with the methodology section detailed at the end of this review. This methodology was followed on all the scopes this year and has been in use for a few years now.
In testing, the adjustments deviated in the following ways and degrees:
Adjusting impact up from optical center, they were accurate to 4.0 mils.
At 5.0 mils on target the adjustments read 4.9 mils.
At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.
At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.
The scope adjusts up to 12.7 mils on the target, at which point the adjustments are at 12.4 mils. There was no continued movement of the adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.
Adjusting down from center the scope was accurate to 2 mils.
At 3 mils on the target the adjustments read 2.9 mils.
At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.
At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.
At 14.0 mils on target the adjustments read 13.6 mils.
The scope adjusts down to 15.0 mils on the target at which point the adjustments are at 14.7 mils. There was no continued movement of the adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.
The windage varied similarly to elevation measuring 4.0 mils on the target at 3.9 mils on the adjustments each way.
This tracking was repeatable and it returned to zero with no problems. Tracking on windage and elevation was properly independent. No zero shift was affected by power change, parallax change, or diopter change. For those wondering, it is not unusual to have more adjustment on one side of optical center than on the other. Though the tube will have the same amount of room on both sides of center, other factors, such as the return spring or turret housing, often limit travel in one or the other direction.
Getting adjustments to exactly match the correct magnitude is one of the most difficult aspects of scope manufacture. As such, most scopes show deviation to some degree measurable with my equipment. The average deviation, based on my past tests, is about 1% at 10 mils. The SIII was a good bit above this, deviating 3% at 10 mils. The effect of this on the shooter is that you need to correct your estimated Ballistic table for it. If you print tables from online calculators, such as I do, you can tailor each entry to reflect the scopes exact deviation at that point. In the case of smartphone type ballistic computing applications, some now include an input to allow for deviations, usually linear, arising from the scope. Most of the time scopes do not deviate entirely linearly, however. Scopes usually deviate by more the further from center the adjustment moves, as is the case with this one. In the end, most app-based ballistic calculators often struggle both with this correction as well as with integrating actual data proven in the field with the calculator’s estimations. At some point I should probably do a whole review set on ballistic calculators, but that is not today’s project.
The takeaway from the mechanical testing is that the SIII tracks cleanly and repeatably, but has a bit more deviation than I would expect. This will mean more correction to ballistic tables than is typical. It should also be mentioned that each SIII example should not be expected to vary by the same amount with regard to the magnitude of the deviation in the adjustments and all scopes are like this. All scopes are typically designed to have no deviation but slight lens positioning differences from piece to piece result in deviation from the design specs.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH during mechanical testing
Summary and Conclusion:
Quite frankly, this year’s set of sub $1k ffp mil/mil precision optics has proven much better than I expected. A few years ago you really couldn’t get the features necessary to shoot long range in an optic for under $1.2k and I really didn’t like any of the options until almost $2k. I like this Sightron though and I like some of the other sub $1k options as well. Shooters now have some real viable and meaningful choices in long range precision optics for a budget. As for that budget, the street price on this Sightron varies significantly from outlet to outlet, but the shooter should find it for well below $1k.
I think the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH represents a low featured but well manufactured precision rifle scope. It is the best optically that I have tested and is significantly better than I would expect from a scope at that price. Similarly, I expect it too be pretty durable as the production line it comes from has a long history of durability and longevity. Sightron also has a good reputation for backing their products should anything go amiss. The SIII’s features are limited, though, and the adjustments are neither 10 mils per turn nor very well marked unless you spend the $50 for the aftermarket turrets. It is also not illuminated. Lastly, the 3% deviation in adjustments at 10 mils from the example I have would suggest that one element of keeping costs low is the allowance of wider tolerances in manufacture than average, specifically in the manual labor of lens positioning that accounts for a large amount of manufacturing cost. This does mean more correction of data by the end user.
All told, I am certain that the package Sightron has put together here will be found compelling by many and develop a significant following. I know I am quite taken with it.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
– Exceptional optics for the cost in almost every aspect
– 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
– 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
Upcoming Models and Changes:
In the process of doing this review and communicating back and forth with Sightron, I learned of some upcoming features and models that I think will be of interest to readers of this review. As I mentioned before, not long ago Sightron didn’t make anything that was featured properly for long range shooting and this model represented something of a first step into that feature set. Evidently, it went well as Sightron is coming up with some more offerings in that direction as well as improving this and other existing models.
Specifically, Sightron is giving the SIII and SV zero stops and coming out with an even lower cost ($699 mspr) FFP mil/mil offering in the S-Tac line which will be a first in that price range to offer a zero stop. The zero stop on the SIII and S-Tac is of an entirely new design that is remarkably simple, inexpensive to manufacture, and also very flexible and easy to use. Simply put, it is a threaded collar that you just snug up under the elevation knob at the zero point preventing it from going lower in the way that cumbersome shim systems worked but without the cumbersome mess. Unlike pin type systems, this can also be set a couple tenths below zero if you want a little wiggle room. In that way, it is better than many more complex zero stop systems on scopes costing many thousands of dollars. It is also very easy to understand, so I don’t think anybody will get confused setting it as often has happened on other systems. In addition to the zero stops, Sightron will be adding more, and more refined, reticle choices to some of its models.
I expect to have additional details on all of this in this years ShotShow reporting. For now, here is a look at Sightron’s simple and effective zero stop concept.
Sightron’s new zero stop concept on an upcoming S-Tac mil/mil FFP scope
Testing Methodology: Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant
When testing scope adjustments, I use the adjustable V-block on the right of the test rig to first center the erector. Approximately .2 or so mil of deviation is allowed from center in the erector as it is difficult to do better than this because the adjustable V-block has some play in it. The erector can be centered with the scope mounted or not mounted. If it started unmounted, I mount it after centering. I next set the zero stop (on scopes with such a feature) to this centered erector and attach the optic to the rail on the left side of the test rig.
Mechanical testing apparatus and target
The three fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely at an 8’x3′ Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds downrange as measured by a quality fiberglass tape measure. The target is also trued to vertical with a bubble level. The reticle is aimed such that its centerline is perfectly aligned with the centerline of the target and it is vertically centered on the 0 mil elevation line.
The CATS target is graduated in both mils and true MOA and calibrated for 100 yards. The target is mounted upside-down on a target backer designed specifically for this purpose as the target was designed to be fired at rather than being used in conjunction with a stationary scope. (Since up for bullet impact means down for reticle movement on the target, the inversion is necessary.) With the three bolts tightened on the test rig head, the deflection of the rig is about .1 mil under the force required to move adjustments. The rig immediately returns to zero when the force is removed. It is a very solid, very precise test platform. These bolts allow the scope to be precisely positioned such that its reticle is perfectly aligned with the test target prior to moving the adjustments. Each click of movement in the scope adjustments moves the reticle on the target and this can observed by the tester as it actually happens during the test: it’s quite a lot of fun if you are a bit of a nerd like I am! After properly setting the parallax to the target (head bob method) and diopter (after the parallax), I move the elevation adjustment though the range from erector center until it stops, making note every 5 mils of adjustment dialed of any deviation in the position of the reticle on the target relative to where it should be and also making note of the total travel and any excess travel in the elevation knob after the reticle stops moving but before the knob stops. At the extent of this travel I can also determine the cant of the reticle by measuring how far off of the target centerline the reticle has moved. I next reverse the adjustment process and go back down to zero. This is done several times to verify consistency with any notes taken of changes. After testing the elevation adjustments in this manner, the windage adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same target and basically the same method. The elevation and windage are then tested in conjunction with one another by making a large box 8 mil wide and as tall as the adjustments will allow. If the scope is one where it is easy to do so (not a pin type zero stop model), I next re-align the test rig to point the scope at the bottom of the target and test the elevation in the other direction for tracking and range. After concluding the testing of adjustments, I also test the reticle size calibration. This is done quite easily on this same target by comparing the reticle markings to those on the target.
Testing a single scope of a given model from a given manufacturer, which is really all that is feasible, is not meant to be indicative of all scopes from that maker. Accuracy of adjustments, reticle size, and cant will differ from scope to scope. After testing a number of scopes, I have a few theories as to why. As designed on paper, I doubt that any decent scope has flaws resulting in inaccurate clicks in the center of the adjustment range. Similarly, I expect few scopes are designed with inaccurate reticle sizes (and I don’t even know how you would go about designing a canted reticle as the reticle is etched on a round piece of glass and cant simply results from it being rotated incorrectly when positioned). However, ideal designs aside, during scope assembly the lenses are positioned by hand and will be off by this much or that much. This deviation in lens position from design spec can cause the reticle size or adjustment magnitude to be incorrect and, I believe, is the reason for these problems in most scopes. Every scope maker is going to have a maximum acceptable amount of deviation from spec that is acceptable to them and I very much doubt they would be willing to tell you what this number is, or better yet, what the standard of deviation is. The tighter the tolerance, the better from the standpoint of the buyer, but also the longer average time it will take to assemble a scope and, therefore, the higher the cost. Assembly time is a major cost in scope manufacture. It is actually the reason that those S&B 1-8x short dots took years to make it to market. Tolerances are a particular concern for scopes that have high magnification ratios and also for those that are short in length. Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy. This should make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test purchased scopes that have these desirable attributes, as manufacturers will face greater pressure on these types to allow looser standards. If you test your scope and find it lacking, I expect that you will not have too much difficulty in convincing a maker with a reputation for good customer service to remedy it: squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that. Remember that some deviations, say a scope’s adjustments being 1% too large or small, are easy to adjust for in ballistic software, whereas others, a large reticle cant for instance, are not.
Before I leave adjustments, reticle size, and reticle cant, I will give you some general trends I have noticed so far. The average adjustment deviation seems to vary on many models with distance from optical center. This is a good endorsement for a 20 MOA base, as it will keep you closer to center for longer. The average deviation for a scope’s elevation seems to be about .1% at 10 mils. Reticle size deviation is sometimes found to vary with adjustments so that both the reticle and adjustments are off in the same way and with similar magnitude. This makes them agree with each other when it comes to follow up shots. I expect this is caused by the error in objective lens position affecting both the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error, it has been of this variety, but fewer scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off. Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary in magnitude as you move from erector center although adjustment deviation often does. The mean amount of reticle error is less than .05%. Reticle cant mean is about .05 degrees. Reticle cant, it should be noted, affects the shooter as a function of calculated drop and can easily get lost in the windage read. As an example, a 1 degree cant equates to about 21 cm at 1000 meters with a 168 gr .308 load that drops 12.1 mil at that distance. That is a lot of drop, and a windage misread of 1 mph is of substantially greater magnitude (more than 34 cm) than our example reticle cant-induced error. This type of calculation should be kept in mind when examining all mechanical and optical deviations in a given scope: a deviation is really only important if it is of a magnitude similar to the deviations expected to be introduced by they shooter, conditions, rifle, and ammunition. Lastly, the proliferation of “humbler” type testing units such as mine appears to have resulted in scope companies improving their QC standards. I see less deviation in products now then a few years ago.
Testing Methodology: Comparative Optical Evaluation
The goal of my optical performance evaluation is NOT to attempt to establish some sort of objective ranking system. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it is notoriously difficult to measure optics in an objective and quantifiable way. Tools, such as MTF plots, have been devised for that purpose, primarily by the photography business. Use of such tools for measuring rifle scopes is complicated by the fact that scopes do not have any image recording function and therefore a camera must be used in conjunction with the scope. Those who have taken through-the-scope pictures will understand the image to image variance in quality and the ridiculousness of attempting to determine quality of the scope via images so obtained. Beyond the difficulty of applying objective and quantifiable tools from the photography industry to rifle scopes, additional difficulties are encountered in the duplication of repeatable and meaningful test conditions. Rifle scopes are designed to be used primarily outside, in natural lighting, and over substantial distances. Natural lighting conditions are not amenable to repeat performances. This is especially true if you live in central Ohio, as I do. Without repeatable conditions, analysis tools have no value, as the conditions are a primary factor in the performance of the optic. Lastly, the analysis of any data gathered, even if such meaningful data were gathered, would not be without additional difficulties. It is not immediately obvious which aspects of optical performance, such as resolution, color rendition, contrast, curvature of field, distortion, and chromatic aberration, should be considered of greater or lesser importance. For such analysis to have great value, not only would a ranking of optical aspects be in order, but a compelling and decisive formula would have to be devised to quantitatively weigh the relative merits of the different aspects. Suffice it to say, I have neither the desire nor the resources to embark on such a multi-million dollar project and, further, I expect it would be a failure anyway as, in the end no agreement will be reached on the relative weights of different factors in analysis.
The goal of my optical performance evaluation is instead to help the reader get a sense of the personality of a particular optic. Much of the testing documents the particular impressions each optic makes on the tester. An example of this might be a scope with a particularly poor eyebox behind which the user notices he just can’t seem to get to a point where the whole image is clear. Likewise, a scope might jump out to the tester as having a very bad chromatic aberration problem that makes it difficult to see things clearly as everything is fringed with odd colors. Often these personality quirks mean more to the users’ experience than any particular magnitude of resolution number would. My testing seeks to document the experience of using a particular scope in such a way that the reader will form an impression similar to that of the tester with regard to like or dislike and will be aware of the reasons for that impression.
The central technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test heads designed for my humbler apparatus consists of five V-blocks of which four are adjustable. This allows each of the four scopes on the adjustable blocks to be aimed such that they are collinear with the fifth. For the majority of the testing, each scope is then set to the same power (the highest power shared by all as a rule). Though power numbers are by no means accurately marked, an approximation will be obtained. Each scope will have the diopter individually adjusted by the tester, the adjustments centered optically, and the parallax set. A variety of targets, including both natural backdrops and optical test targets, will be observed through the plurality of optics with the parallax being adjusted for each optic at each target. A variety of lighting conditions over a variety of days will be utilized. Specific notes are made regarding: resolution, color rendition, contrast, field of view, edge to edge quality, light transmission, pincushion and barrel distortion, chromatic aberration, tunneling, depth of field, eyebox, stray light handling, and optical flare. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optic’s performance and explains the reasons why.
Comparative optical testing of this years sub $1k precision rifle scopes behind the adjustable v-block