$400: Born in Europe, Assembled in the US

 
Born in Europe, Assembled in the US

 

Lately, I have written quite a few reviews where I had to put some seriouseffort into making the comparison make sense. Quite to the contrary, this is probably the cleanest, most “apples-to-apples” comparison I have done to date. When I arrived to SHOT earlier this year and realized that both Minox and Meopta (despite my base inclinations, I will refrain fromshortening this to “M&M”) introduced 1″-tube US-assembled scopes, I thought that they are likely aimed straight at Zeiss Conquest. Then, it turned out that 3-9x versions of both Minox and Meopta were priced right at $400, same as the Conquest. At that point, I marched right over to their respecting booths and asked if they are interested in sending me loaner scopes (it is remarkable what can happen if you ask nicely). Both companies turned out to be confident enough in the quality of their products to risk a head-to-head comparison. SWFA was kind enough to provide me with a loaner Conquest 3-9×40.

 

Zeiss Conquest 3-9×40 is probably the best $400 general hunting scope out there. I recommend it with boring regularity, and I have yet to have someone come back and tell me that this was a bad recommendation. It is a very well sorted out design, that is also priced right.

 

Interestingly, Zeiss prices the Z-Plex version of this scope about $100 cheaper than any other reticle (for example, the #4a reticle that I like). To keep the comparison honest, I requested Minox and Meopta with simple plex reticles as well. Minox is also available with a holdover reticle for about $30 more, while MeoPro is available with #4a reticle for the same money as the plex. I think Minox will also be offering #4 reticle in their scopes by fall.

 

The whole write-up is pretty long, so here are the “Cliff’s Notes” for those who do not feel like suffering through the whole thing:

  • I liked all three scopes enough to recommend them. With Minox and Meopta, my recommendation is conditional on how they hold up. These are new product lines, and there is no way of knowing how they fare long term until there are enough of them out in the field. Personally, I suspect they will do just fine. 
  • For the time being, I think Conquest is still the most well-rounded hunting scope in this price range. However, any reticle other than Z-Plex carries a considerable price premium. If you are comfortable with the Z-Plex, Conquest is still the way to go. 
  • Minox offers the most eye relief of the bunch with the most eye position flexibility. It is also smaller and lighter than the other two. If you are looking for a scope to put on a light rifle that has appreciable kick even with moderate calibers, consider the ZA-3. It is a good fit for a mountain rifle. It also has the best centerfield resolution of the bunch. Reticle selection will expand through the year. 
  • If you are comfortable with a large eyepiece and a slightly heavier scope, and you expect to spend a lot of time in low light, consider the Meopta MeoPro with the #4 reticle. It offers a very comfortable view in challenging light and there is no price premium for choosing #4 reticle. Reticle selection is a big deal for me, since there are not all that many reasonably affordable scopes with good low light reticles out there.

 

With that summary out of the way, let’s dig into the nitty gritty.

 

Here are some specs to start with:

Minox 
ZA-3 
3-9×40

Meopta MeoPro 
3-9×42

Zeiss Conquest 
3-9×40

SWFA S.S.

3-9×42

Sightron 
S2 Big Sky 
3-9×42

Vortex Diamondback
3-9×40

Length, in

12.2

12.4

13.15

13.1

12.64

11.6

Weight, oz

12.8

16

15

19

13.4

14.4

Main Tube Diameter

1″

1″

1″

30mm

1″

1″

Objective Diameter, mm

49.4

48.9

46

49.7

50.5

45.7

Eyepiece Diameter, mm

39.4

43.4

40.9

41.5

41.4

40.6

Eye Relief, in

4

3.75

4

4 – 3.5

4

3.5 – 3.3

FOV, ft@1000yards

31.5 – 10.5

36.3 – 12.1

34 – 11

33.2 – 14.51

31.9 – 11.3

44.6 – 14.8

Click Value

1/4 MOA

1/4 MOA

1/4 MOA

0.1 mrad

1/4 MOA

1/4 MOA

Adjustment range

60

70

64

90+

70

70

Price

$400

$400

$400

$600

$320

$200

 

In addition to the three scopes in question here, I added a couple of Japanese scopes to the table for illustrative purposes. One is the variable SuperSniper which happens to be my favourite 3-9×42 scope, and which I happen to have. Another is the Sightron S2 Big Sky, which I do not have, but have spent quite a bit of time with. The Sightron is mostly here for a look at the specs. It seemed like a good fit here owing to the rather long eyerelief it has. Finally, I added the specs for Vortex Diamondback to the table. Diamondback is a much cheaper scope that recently came out on top in my sub-$200 comparison. I briefly compared it to the Minox, Zeiss andMeopta. Diamondback, while very competent, is not quite in their league, but not as far off as you might think. Looking at the specs, it is also apparent that in moving from $200 range to $400 range you do not get a whole lot in terms of spec numbers and trying to judge scopes based on hard specs alone is pointless. What you do get, however, is an improvement in performance that is rather obvious if you use the scopes.

 

Between Minox, Meopta and Zeiss there are obvious designdifferences. Minox is the smallest and lightest and has the narrowest Field of View. Meopta and Zeiss weigh about the same. MeoPro is alittle shorter than the Conquest and has the widest FOV of the three. Conquest is right in the middle in terms of FOV and is the longest of the bunch.

 

Eye relief is very comparable across the board with about 0.25″ of difference (on paper).

 

Sightron is very close to the Minox in terms of both size and specifications.

 

SWFA S.S. is about the same length as the Conquest, but a bit heavier (as you would expect of a beefy 30mm tube scope). One interesting detail is that at high magnification the S.S. has a fair bit larger FOV thaneven the Meopta. It loses the advantage at 3x, but in a side-by-side comparison it turns out that the S.S. carries a noticeable FOV edge from 5x upward.

 

Before, I go into my impressions of these scopes, I want to address a little their origins.

 

Conquest has European glass (Made by Meopta to Zeiss’ specs, Ithink). The mechanicals are machined by Zeiss in Germany and the assembly is done in the US.

 

Minox, reportedly, has German glass. Mechanicals are sourced somewhere in the Pacific Rim (not sure where). Assembly is in the US as well.

 

Meopta MeoPro’s glass and mechanicals are apparently manufactured in the Czech republic (where Meopta is located) with the assembly done here in the States.

 

Zeiss Conquest has been around for a while and is a known quantity. I used for an optical comparison, but I did not bother to mount it on a rifle. Minox and MeoPro were used on Tikka M695 chambered for 280Rem and on an accurate 223 Rem semi-auto.

tikka

ar-15

 

 

Overall Appearance and Mechanical Quality

 

Here is what these scopes look like side by side. From left to right: MeoPro, Conquest, Minox ZA-3.

side by side

 

Notably, Meopta has the largest diameter eyepiece, while Minox eyepiece is the slimmest. Outer diameter of the objective bell is about the same for the Meopta and the Minox, while Zeiss is a little slimmer. In terms of mounting length, Zeiss offers the most flexibility, but all three scopes are decent. MeoPro is the hardest to mount low owing to the rather large eyepiece. For example, on my Tikka, that sports a long one piece EGW base, I had to use medium rings, while Minox worked fine with low ones. Between Minox and Conquest, I suspect that they will offer a perfect fit on different rifles. Minox will be limited by the objective bell, while Conquest by the eyepiece. All in all, none of these scopes is likely to offer serious mounting challenges on a typical boltgun (with the Meopta being morel ikely to prove troublesome than the others). Just for the record, if you need a decent scope with the smallest possible eyepiece in the $300-$400 range, in addition to the Minox ZA-3, you should be looking at 3-9×40 Vortex Viper which has 38.1mm eyepiece diameter.

 

In terms of overall feel, all three scopes are pretty close. Magnification adjustments are smooth and repeatable. Knobs are of a low profile variety covered by turret caps.  They are finger adjustable,with Minox and Zeiss knobs being very similar in look and feel. Meopta has a different knob design. The knobs themselves have very solid clicks,but they are harder to adjust.  Minox and Conquest have what looks like plastic knobs. They are not as solid feeling as I would have liked, but they work well. I did not particularly like Minox knobs when I first saw these scopes at SHOT, so I spent some time with them once I got my hands on one. On the scope I received, the knobs have better feel, though it is still not spectacular. All that notwithstanding, the clicks were spot on and the adjustments worked well no matter how I abused them. I also talked to Terry Moore from Minox about the scopes that were on the show floor, and he indicated that the knobs on those were not properly tightened after a demonstration on how they are reset.   I did not spend quite as much time on the Meopta knobs, but I ran a couple of box tests and found them to track as well as the knobs on the Minox.  In the end, I can honestly say that for a scope of this type, click quality probably does not matter all that much.  These are usually sighted in and left that way.  However, it is still comforting to know that knob adjustments are repeatable.

 

Here is a shot of the Minox turrets:

Minox turrets

 

And here is a picture of the knobs on the MeoPro (I wish they had numbers on the dials):

meopta knobs

 

The knobs on the MeoPro have comparatively little area to grab onto. Coupled with considerable resistance, they were not fun to do a lot of clicking with. On the other hand, the solid feel and metal construction are quite reassuring.

 

Point of impact did not change with magnification in any significant manner (or my shooting was not good enough to tell the difference). As far as changing magnification goes, the largest eyepiece (MeoPro) offered the most leverage and was the easiest to grab. Minox magnification ring was a little stiffer than others and was the only rubberized one.  Also, the smaller diameter eyepiece is at a bit of a mechanical disadvantage in this case. There is a little give in the soft rubber covering the magnification ring and I was a little worried it might detach, but it held on just fine. Both Meopta and Zeiss have knurled metal zoom rings.   All three are reasonably low profile, but should still offer good purchase even in adverse conditions.

 

Here is a snapshot that offers a better look at Minox’ rubberized zoom ring. It is very unlikely to snag on anything:

minox eyepiece

 

Optics

 

When I set out to do this, I thought that there would not be a whole lot of difference between Conquest, Minox and MeoPro in daylight. Usually, the differences come out in more challenging conditions. I was wrong (and I thoroughly despise being wrong, so forgive me for being a bit testy). I found more differences in their performance in bright light than I did in low light.

 

First of all, in terms of being able to see detail in good light, MeoPro lagged a little bit behind the Minox and Zeiss.  MeoPro has the widest field of view in this group, and it is clear almost out to the edges. However, I just could not see as much detail with it when looking at resolution charts (or trying to see bullet holes in black paper). I think MeoPro has a little flare that degrades the image ever so slightly. I experimented a bit with improvised sunshades, which confirmed my suspicions of flare coming in at a steep angle. There was also a little more chromatic aberration in the Meopta than in the other two. Not a whole lot, mind you, but just enough for me to notice.

 

Minox has the narrowest field of view of the bunch. However,right in the center of the image, I could pick up more detail with the Minox than with the other two scopes. Interestingly, I also saw a bit more chromatic aberration overall with the Minox than with the Zeiss, but the center of the Minox was cleaner. The edges of the image were the softest with Minox. There was also some sort of a chromatic effect where in bright light, there is a thin yellow/orange ring at the very edge of the field of view.  I experimented with sun shades and other methods of controlling flare, but to noavail. When I started messing with the color of incident light in the lab, it became apparent that the issue was due to some sort of color mishandling, likely by the objective lens system. When subjected to primarily green/blue light, the effect disappeared. I suspect it is a manifestation of longitudinal chromatic aberration in the objective lens system. Either way, it is a rather weak phenomenon, that is likely of far more interest to me than to sane people.

 

The Conquest image, overall, looks very similar to that of the MeoPro, except it is a touch sharper. It is clear almost all the way out to the edges. In the center of the image it showed ever so slightly less detail than Minox, but it is definitely sharper if you are looking at the outer 50% of the field of view.

 

Before I go onto more details, it is worthwhile to stop for a moment and think about what is important in a riflescope as far as optics are concerned. There are different opinions on this, and I am not entirely sure which camp I am in. Some people say that optical requirements for a riflescope are not any different than those of any other optical device: image quality is image quality after all.  Others say that a riflescope is an aiming device and it has to be tack clear right in the center of the reticle with all else being secondary. As a matter of fact some like it when the periphery of the image is not as sharp, so that the eye is naturally drawn to the center. As is often the case, I am probably somewhere between the two camps. I find that the eye is naturally drawn to the center of the image circle, and generally the reticle is supposed to be doing the same thing. Also, if the peripheral distortion and other artefacts are too significant, they can be distracting.  Additionally, in scopes that you spend a lot oftime looking through (varmint shooting, for example), you want a clear image simply to minimize eye fatigue. With mid-range hunting scopes like this trio, I am not sure which approach is the way to go.

 

In order to get a good optical evaluation in challenging lightconditions, I headed out to the beach near Ventura pier a bit before sunset and set up my tripod there.  At this point I had already finished with the resolution and contrast testing, so I was primarily interested in image quality out in the real world, so to speak. I alternated between the scopes looking at different spots as the light was setting.

 

Here is the MeoPro sitting on a tripod pointing toward an Americanflag at the end of the pier about 150 yards away:

pier

 

I generally do not like to post “through the scope”pictures. There is always someone trying to make fundamental opticalconclusions based on them, which is thoroughly useless. Unless you gothrough some painfully tedious camera and lighting setup, “through thescope” pictures do not tell you anything about a scope’s image quality. However, they do help illustrate the differences in reticle appearance,and, of course, show what the scope is pointed at.

 

From top to bottom: Meopta, Minox and Zeiss reticles (I apologize in advance to having the American flag in the field of view; the scope was not mounted on the rifle and I was simply pointing at something that offer a good idea of the image quality, which the flag with all those stars and stripes, provides).

MeoPro reticle:

meopta reticle

Minox Reticle:

minox reticle

Conquest reticle:

conquest reticle

 

That scene gives a good variety of both moving (birds and the flag flapping in the wind) and stationary (the pier itself and pier supports) targets to look at.   Moreover, as the sun starts setting over the water, I get a lot of glare off of the water and interesting diffractive effects off of the various gridlike structures.

 

As the sun sets, here is what the pier looks like (there is a nice restaurant on the right hand side there if you ever want to come over for a visit):

dark pier

 

This scene never gets quite dark enough for real low light testing, so I relocate elsewhere for that.  However, it does give me a very nice opportunity to evaluate various optical artefacts. Depending on where in the image I position all the different light sources, I can stress the optics in adifferent way. For example, the very bright light source visible underneath the building on the right of the image is actually a baseball stadium light that is a couple of miles away. That light has a very distinct pattern to it, so it is easy to recognize any ghost image formed from it.

 

All three scopes exhibit low-to-moderate flare, but none is particularly prone to strong veiling flare. MeoPro has the most veiling flare (and not much at that), while the Minox has the most prominent local flare artefacts near the periphery of the image. Conquest has the best flare suppression of the bunch.

 

Neither the Conquest nor the MeoPro was especially susceptible to ghost image formation.   Minox, interestingly, produced a strong green ghost image symmetrical with respect to the optical axis when pointed at those distant stadium lights and set at 7x.   At other magnifications it was not any more prone to ghost images than the other scopes on hand.  I do not quite understand what is so special at 7x. There must some moving part there that is only exposed to light in that particular position [Minox confirmed that the scope I looked was a pre-production sample, and this odd reflection at 7x is not present in regular production units].

 

There were also a couple of flare-like effects that did not make sense to me until I looked carefully and realized that there is some debri stuck between the lenses of the eyepiece.   If memory serves me right, the scope I have is a very early sample, so it is probably not surprising that there are some assembly problems with it.

 

Still, I expect Minox to look into it as soon as they receive the scope back and do an FA report of some sort. I suspect both of these issues are simply due to the scope being an early sample, but I will follow-up on that.

 

In low light, all three scopes performed very similarly. MeoPro comfortably caught up with Conquest and Minox once the light got really low. I suspect wider field of view of the Meopta really helped there. Also, keep in mind that a 42mm objective lens provides about 10% exit pupil advantage over a 40mm objective lens. I ran my tests at multiple magnifications to make sure that I isolate the effect of the exit pupil size. Overall, I can honestly say that in truly low light, there is little to differentiate the usability of these scopes. The image through each scope still looks a bit different due to FOV variation, butaside from that, as the light got lower I never found myself in a situation where I could acquire the target with one scope and couldn’t with the others. As far as aiming goes, the situation was a little different. All three scopes had their versions of plex reticles. Minox and Meopta have reticles of approximately the same thickness. However, Conquest’s Z-Plex is appreciably thicker (you can see that in the reticle snapshots above) and remains visible for quite a bit longer. On the other hand, MeoPro can be ordered with #4 reticle for the same price. Minox will have #4 reticles available by fall of this year. I am not sure whether there is going to be extra cost associated with it, but I doubt it will be more expensive than other Minox’ reticles (i.e. not much extra money at all). I have a lot of mileage with #4 reticles in all manner of scopes, and I much prefer them in lowlight to typical plex reticles, even Zeiss’ excellent Z-Plex. Conquest is also available with #4, but for $100 more.

 

Eye relief on all three scopes was fairly long, with Minox being the longest at just over 4″. Conquest measured out at almost exactly 4″ and Meopta was 3.6″. For all three scopes, eye relief varied by no more than 0.25″ as I changed magnification. Minox eye relief was the most flexible longitudinally, although Conquest and Meopta had slightly more leeway side to side, even when exit pupil was the same size. Meopta eye relief was the most critical of the three longitudinally, although not much more so than the Conquest.

 

Depth of Field was the most generous on the Conquest. Minoxhad a little better DOF than Meopta, but not as good as Zeiss.

 

None of the scopes exhibited any perceptible tunnel vision. Minox had the thickest black circle around the image, but it did not change viewing perspective like true tunnel vision does.   In Minox’ case, it is simply an artefact of having the longest eye relief and the smallest eyepiece: it takes up the smaller angular fraction of the field of view of your eye. Because of that, in low light, it was a little easier to acquire the image with Meopta than with the other two scopes here. MeoPro’s beefy eyepiece is very easy to center your eye behind.

 

Conclusions

I liked all three scopes. They are a testament to how much scope you can get for $400 these days. Until MeoPro and Minox have been around a little longer and proven their durability, Conquest is still the “allround champ”, although not by all that much, and even then only for people happy with the Z-Plex. Same model Conquest with #4reticle costs $500 and $575 when outfitted with Rapid-Z holdover reticle.

MeoPro 3-9×42 is available with plex and #4 reticles. Both versions of the scope cost $400.

Minox ZA-3 3-9×40 comes with plex for $400 and a holdover reticle for $420.

 

If someone were to ask me which one of these three I would pick,my answer would be different depending on the budget and application:

  • Basic hunting scope with a tried-and-true plex reticle: Conquest with the Z-Plex 
  • You are heading out into the boonies and plan to carry everything on your back, or you are outfitting a lightweight rifle for a mountain hunt: Minox ZA-3 (with #4 reticle if you can wait until fall) 
  • Low light performance is of paramount importance and you want to stay in the $400 range: Meopta MeoPro 3-9×42 with #4 reticle.

Now if I get my head out of the minute details and step back for a moment, I have to admit that I am really splitting hairs here. Any one of these scopes is clearly good enough for any of the uses I outlined above and many others that I didn’t. However, we live in a world where we are fortunate to have an opportunity to go beyond “good enough”. In that case, pick something that best matches your needs.

 

 

Here is the relevant OpticsTalk thread:

http://opticstalk.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=23722&PID=320307#320307

 

 Posted by at 2:27 am

  8 Responses to “$400: Born in Europe, Assembled in the US”

  1. Assuming all your reticule photos were at the same magnification, the Meopta has the wider field you referenced and it also appears to have better contrast than the Zeiss. Am I wrong?

    • That is largely wrong. Judging image quality via the “through the scope” pictures is almost invariably a bad idea. That is why I have resisted posted any pictures like this for years and only succumbed to doing that because it is hard to represent how the reticle looks otherwise. The pictures you refer to are only there to show the reticle, not image quality of the scopes.

      ILya

  2. …and yet you make no reference whatever to contrast, which is critical in determining optical performance. It is at least as important as light transmission through the system. It’s entirely possible to have a scope that has a high light transmission yet a poor low-light performance if contrast is poor.

    • You are right there: I should have talked about contrast. I typically do, but when the contrast performance is similar across the board I sometimes forget.
      I did talk about low light performance, so that is in the article.
      Light transmission is one thing that I almost never talk about since in the grand scheme of things, it is not very important.

  3. After reading this article (really enjoyed it), I was curious how the Trijicon Accupoint 3-9×40 compared optically and mechanically with these scopes…leaving aside the illuminated reticle feature. I recognize the illuminated reticle is a key feature with the Trijicon, but I am curious how it compares If you didn’t need that feature. Thoughts?
    Thanks.

    • If you take out the Accupoint’s clever illumination system, in terms of pure optical quality it is slightly worse than the Meopta Meopro, but still pretty respectable.

  4. Everyone seems to be overly concerned with light transmission through the scope lens system. For those who are heavily into photography, a 1/2 stop (50%) difference in exposure (light transmission) is barely noticeable and 1/8 stop (12.5%) can only be seen with careful direct comparison. The difference to our eyes between 90% transmission and 95% is close to nothing.

    For low light performance, contrast and color fidelity are just as important or more so. How about a discussion of the real factors determining low-light optical performance? It is ultimately a question of information transmission.

    • As I replied in the personal e-mail, I think I have light transmission reasonably well covered in the Riflescope Fundamentals. As far as what is important, I am not sure if I like the term information transmission. I generally prefer the term image quality. Information transmission implies some metric for how well the receiver works and in this case the receiver is the human eye (and brain). Those vary significantly between observers. Image quality is a better descriptor of what a riflescope or binocular does, I think.
      One final comment on stops: 1/2 stop is not a 50% difference. One stop is a factor of two difference. 1/2 stop is a factor of square root of two (~1.43), and so on.
      I do agree that small difference in the amount of light are difficult to discern with the human eye. The eye is extremely sensitive to image fidelity, though.