written by ILya Koshkin, December 2017
One of the goals I had for 2017 was to take a break from the stratospherically priced precision scopes I have been spending so much time on and take a closer look at products people can actually afford. Also, since I have been shooting my various ARs a lot, I decided to look a little more closely at red dot sights and low range variable power (LRVP) scopes.
Looking at the changes that have been happening in the LRVP market, I can make a pretty good case that development-wise it is the most active segment in the riflescope world at the moment and has been for a little while. First, decent 1-4x designs became available for not too much money. Now, you can get a very respectable 1-6x scope for under $500 (see my Burris RT-6 impressions here). Next step is a proliferation of rather capable 1-8x designs. Now, when I say “capable” 1-8x designs I am not referring to the inexpensive Chinese OEM design that a bunch of people use, retailing in the $300-$400 range. It is apparently quite popular and I am sure I am not making any friends when I say this, but it is barely serviceable at best.
As a general aside, if you want to see a super positive review on everything, buy any gun magazine. Every once in a while, I ruffle through a few pages and my blood pressure goes up every time I get to an article on optics. I could swear that half the time they do not even use the scopes they claim to test. They mount them on a gun, take a couple of nice pictures and proceed to rehash whatever is in the marketing literature. As riflescopes get more sophisticated, the basic technical illiteracy of an average gunwriter becomes more and more apparent. Some time, I should do some audio recordings from the press room at SHOT show; you hear all sorts of interesting things there…
Going back to the matter at hand… another factor to consider is that once we get into a rather broad magnification range designs, fairly long shots are very viable and reticle plane needs to be considered. With 1-4x and 1-6x scopes, I am perfectly comfortable with either FFP or SFP, as long as it is done well. However, once we get to 8x at the top end, I really start leaning toward FFP.
However, FFP makes it difficult to have a day bright reticle illumination, which can be important on 1x. One way to offset that is with a sophisticated reticle design, but there has also been a lot of improvement in reticle illumination technology.
To me, the king of the hill with 1-8×24 scopes in the last couple of years has been Minox’ ZP8 1-8×24 (with the new Nightforce ATACR being the most recent challenger), but it is expensive and out of reach for most people. With that in mind I decided to restrict myself to the sub-$2k range and gradually look at whatever is available as time allows.
That’s how we get to the Burris XTR II 1-8×24. It runs for right around $1100-$1200 and seems to be a very well built scope. Another reason I was curious was that I tested the 2-10×42 version of the XTR II and liked it immensely. However, while all the other XTR II scopes are made in the Phillipines, the 1-8×24 is made in Japan by LOW. That was an interesting enough development for me to get my hands on one.
Here is my customary table of all the 1-8×24 FFP scopes I could think of in the sub-$2k price range:
|Trijicon 1-8×28||HiLux CMR8 1-8×26||Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (new)||GPO TAC 1-8×24 1-8×24
|PA Platinum 1-8 X 24||Bushnell SMRS 1-8.5x 24|
Main Tube Diameter
|Eye Relief, in||
4 – 3.5
|4 – 3.9||4||3.75||3.54||3.98 – 3.83||3.5|
105 – 12.5
|109 – 13.1||114.8 – 14.5||106 – 13||107 – 13||105.8 – 13.25||
105 – 14
|Exit Pupil||12 – 3||11.8 – 3.5||16.6 – 3.2||7.9 – 3||24 – 3(???)||11.7 – 3||
13.2 – 3.2 (???)
|Click Value||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.2 mrad||0.1 mrad||0.1 mrad||
|Adjustment per turn||
|10 mrad||10 mrad||10 mrad||10 mrad||10 mrad||10 mrad|
|Adjustment range||30 mrad||29.6 mrad||30 mrad||29 mrad||
Two of the scopes I list are not yet out in the wild: Nightforce NX8 and GPO TAC, so all I know about them is limited to the published specifications. The exit pupil spec for the GPO TAC has got to be a typo. NX8 seems to be impressively compact and light for this category. Both GPO and Nightforce are supposed to have truly day bright reticle illumination. I’ll be sure to test both designs. The exit pupil specification for the Bushnell SMRS is definitely a typo. You can’t get a 3.2mm exit pupil with a 24mm objective and 8.5x magnification. I’ll need to look at this scope a bit more carefully we well.
Best I can tell all of these designs other than the Hi-Lux are either entirely or partially OEM’ed by LOW in Japan. I will talk about Hi-Lux’ CMR8 in another article, since that is a different story. Between Burris, Trijicon, PA and Bushnell, there is a lot of similarity in specifications and I suspect they are related, though not identical designs. None of these offer fully dayr bight reticles, so I expect that to be compensated by reticle features. Burris reticle has a large(ish) circle that serves that purpose. Here is what it looks like on 1x with and without illumination:
I probably would have preferred a somewhat thicker circle for visibility, but it worked quite well as is. The circle and the bars really draw the eye to the center and at closer distances. Here are a few pictures at different magnifications:
The photos are taken with a handheld cellphone and are not intended as a measure of image quality. The are only meant to give you an idea of what the reticle looks like. The circle inside diameter is 10 mrad and the thickness is 1 mrad, which is a little on the thin side for my purposes. It works though. 10 mrad is very easy to use for some rudimentary rangefinding. The beauty of the mrad system is that at any distance 1 mrad subtends exactly one thousandth of that distance. Well, that means 10 mrad subtends exactly one hundredth of the distance. In practical terms, if you are looking at a target that is 100 yards away, the circle subtends 1 yard. At 100 feet, it is 1 foot. At 50 yards, it is 0.5 yards (or 18 inches). And so on. For me, it is pretty intuitive and I can make quick range estimation using the circle at moderate distances. Here is a drawing with the rest of the subtensions that I grabbed from Burris’ website. Unless specifically noted, they are all in mrad.
Holdover points work well for typical AR cartridges and the horizontal hashmarks subtend 18″ at 300, 400 and 500 yards. I am not a huge fan of BDC reticles and of this type of rangefinding, but it works in a pinch and Burris keeps things consistent between different models. I am reasonably well used to it, but I would have preferred a mil-scale on the vertical axis. Perhaps, I will talk Burris into putting one in (it is unlikely, but I keep trying).
Before I wrap up with the reticle discussion, it is worth mentioning that this is a very streamlined reticle design that is very quick to deploy. Most of my complaints about the reticle are really a matter of personal preference, so YMMV. I held back this review for a bit in order to spend some time with the reticle and do some more shooting in different lighting conditions. I can honestly report that the reticle did not hold me back in the slightest. For use on ARs of all sorts where you want to cover everything from CQB to 600 yards or so, it worked great.
If I want to push it further, I can use the turrets, which are well weighted and very repeatable. The scope comes with Burris’ MAD system, which basically means that you can switch between an exposed turret with a zero stop and a simple covered turret. It came from the factory with an exposed turret and the covered turret is in the box. For scopes of this type I generally prefer covered or locking turrets, but a zero stop is very helpful as well. Since I am planning to take this scope out to 1000 yards soon, I have not yet switched the turrets. Windage turret is of the covered variety, which works great for me.
The illumination control knob is on the left of the turret box and offers a pretty good range of brightnesses from very low that is suitable from low light use to fairly bright conditions. As I mentioned before, it is not quite bright enough for broad daylight, but close.
In terms of physical size, it is marginally bigger than some 1-6×24 designs, but the difference is small. Here is a snapshot where you can see four scopes sorta next to each other: Hawke Frontier 1-6×24, Burris RT-6, Hi-Lux CMR8 1-8×26 and Burris XTR II 1-8×24.
The magnification ring is reasonably well weighted and is knurled so it is easy enough to grab. Same for all the other controls. The scope came with a couple of lens covers that do not seem to be Butler Creek. I am not sure who makes them, but they appear to be holding up alright. If they break, I’ll update this. The eyepiece is of the fast focus variety. It did not take long to set up and I did not see any obvious hysteresis in the adjustment.
Generally, setting up the eyepiece for scopes that go down to 1x is a little different than that for higher power scopes. What I usually do is get it focused at the highest power first in the conventional manner, but then I do some finetuning at 1x to minimize distortion and match magnifications. XTR optical designed is very solid and it did not take a whole lot of messing with.
Generally, I am pretty happy with the optics. It is still a 24mm objective, so if you are looking for something optimized for low light, this is not it. However, it is very respectable for what it is and since the image has good contrast and stray light control, overall optical performance is better than I expected. At 8x, the exit pupil is only 3mm which works well for daylight, but as the light got lower, I found myself turning the magnification down. I did not try it on a pitch black night, but with some sort of moon/stars/street lights/etc, I found myself settling somewhere right around 4.5x. Optically, it seemed to be fairly similar to the Trijicon 1-8×28 and Bushnell SMRS that I have spent some time with and better than the less expensive Hilux CMR8. I have not spent enough time with the PA Platinum to be sure where it stacks up, but I think it is also similar.
As far as eye relief flexibility goes, the scope was very easy to get behind across the magnification range. It got a little tighter at 8x, as the exit pupil got smaller, but overall the eyepiece looks to be well designed. I did not see any tunneling anywhere, which is important for LRVP scopes. It seems to be a touch better than the previous generation of 1-6×24 LRVP scopes (1-6×24 models like SWFA SSHD 1-6×24 and GRSC 1-6×24), but not by much. The biggest advantage it has over those is with broader magnification range and slightly wider FOV. Outside of that, optically, CA seems to be slightly better controlled. In other words, it looks like the 1-8×24 FFP design achieves slightly better optical performance than the earlier 1-6×24 FFP across a wider range of magnifications. To me, that sounds like a tangible improvement. To sorta bracket how it performs, I think that the better 1-6×24 SFP scopes like Vortex Razor Gen 2 and Meopta Meostar R2 are a touch better, but SFP scopes are a little easier to build, and they are more expensive.
Overall, I am really impressed with what the XTR II offers for the money. It seems to be offering comparable performance to to its competitors while costing less, by a non-trivial amount. With that in mind, the XTR II easily lands on my list of recommendations.