10×42 riflescopes: Sightron S3 and SWFA Super Sniper

 

10×42 Tactical Riflescopes: Sightron S3 and SWFA S.S.


Unlike the rest of my reviews, I will not provide a “Cliff’s notes” version of this one.  However, if all you want is my conclusion, feel free to skip over to the end.


The world of riflescopes is, largely, dominated by variable power designs.  In principle, they are heavier, bulkier, more complicated and less durable than fixed power riflescopes.  In practice, they are only marginally heavier, hardly bulkier, and as far as quality makers are concerned, so reliable that any difference is hard to detect. On the other hand, variable power scopes are, naturally, a lot more flexible and versatile than their fixed power brethren.  That having been said, fixed power scopes have a few things going for them.  Aside from (and in addition to) the qualities mentioned above, fixed power scopes have fewer lenses in them, so they are can theoretically provide better performance, albeit at only one magnification, due to higher light transmission.  Honestly, in my opinion, total amount of light transmitted by a scope is not especially important by itself.  However, what is important is that as little as possible is reflected at every glass surface (those reflections.  With the quality of Anti-Reflective (AR) coatings we have today, light transmission/reflection should not be an issue.  Where fixed magnification scopes do have an advantage from an optical standpoint is in system design: it is much easier to optimize the optical formula for a single magnification than for a range of them.

 

Similarly, it is easier to really beef up the mechanicals in a fixed power scope without making the whole thing weigh a ton than it is in a variable.

 

In a nutshell, fixed power scopes have the following going for them:

· Theoretically, they are more rugged

· You often get better quality for the money since the whole system is less complex and easier to optimize (although with fixed power scopes being less popular than in the past, the economies of scale are working against you)

 

At the moment, fixed power scopes have only a few footholds remaining in the shooting market, but these footholds may have quite a bit of longevity to them.  One of these market segments is the “tactical” market.  High end variable power scopes with ranging reticles and exposed knobs are expensive.  There are very few high quality sub-$1000 variable scopes in this market and top of the line ones are in the >$2500 range.  If you do not have that much money to spend, your choices get somewhat limited and too many of those choices are simply hunting/varmint scopes with a “tactical” label plastered onto them. Here is where fixed power scopes come in.  For a long time now, if you were so inclined, you could get a 10×42 riflescope for ~$300 that was designed with tactical applications in mind and had an enviable reputation for being very rugged. A few years back, the optics of this scope have gone through a redesign and are very good for the money.  The scope of course, is the SWFA Super Sniper (S.S.) that started its existence a while back under Tasco banner, but is fully owned by SWFA now.  Recently, a couple more 10×42 scopes were introduced with essentially the same features.  One is the S.S. 10x42HD (S.S.HD).  This is a heavier duty and higher spec version of the original S.S. made at a different factory.  This is a limited production number retailing for ~$800.  Another is the Sightron S3 10×42 that slots neatly between the two Super Snipers in terms of price.  There are a few other 10×42 (or 10×40) riflescopes on the market.  I included a few in the table below that I thought would be most relevant.  There are quite a few that I left out for various reasons:

· Bushnell Elite 3200 10×40 and Weaver Grand Slam 10×40 do not have parallax adjustment which I consider very important for a scope of this type

· IOR’s steel tube 10×42 is a very nice scope, but it looks to have been discontinued

· There are a few 10x50and 10×56 scopes out there.  While I would probably prefer these configuration to the 10×42, they are sufficiently different to not fit here.

 

Here are the specs (the three scopes in bold font are the ones I am comparing, the rest are for background information):

Sightron S3 10×42

SWFA S.S. 10×42

SWFA S.S. 10x42HD

Hawke Sidewinder 30 Tactical 10×42

Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 10×40

S&B

PMII

10×42

Length, in

13.2

13.88

13.5

14.6

13.1

13.1

Weight, oz

19.4

21

20

25.4

21

21

Main Tube Diameter

30mm

30mm

30mm

30mm

30mm

30mm

Eye Relief, in

3.6

4

3.75

4

3.4

3.7

FOV, ft@1000yards

10

13

10.5

11.8

11.1

12

Click Value

1/4 MOA

1/4 MOA

0.1mrad

1/4 MOA

1/4, 1/2, and 1 MOA available

0.1mrad

Adjustment range

150 MOA

150 MOA

38 mrad (~130 MOA)

80 MOA

75 MOA

13mrad

(~45 MOA)

Single turn adjustment

15 MOA

15 MOA

5mrad (~18MOA)

15 MOA

depends on the knobs

single turn turret

Parallax Adjustment

Rear

Rear

Rear

Side

Side

Side

Price

$550

$299

$799

$339

$1399

$1800

Country of Origin

Japan

Japan

Japan

China

US Assembly, Pacific Rim parts


Germany

In terms of size and weight, Hawke (the only Chinese scope here) is bigger than the others, the rest are pretty close to each other dimensionally. The three scopes I have on hand here are the only scopes I know of that have rear parallax adjustment.  What type of parallax adjustment you prefer is in the eye of the beholder, but if you are a lefty, rear parallax is more comfortable than side-focus.  Personally, I do not have a strong preferences one way or the other as long as it works well.


The original S.S. has quite a bit more field of view than the Sightron or the S.S.HD.  In terms of eye relief the three scopes are very similar to each other, if anything the S.S. has a little less eye relief than Sightron and S.S.HD.  S.S. does have the largest eyepiece which helps with the field of view.

 

S.S. 10x42HD has mrad clicks to go with the MilDot reticle.  That, to me, is a big deal.  Ranging and dialing in are a fair bit simpler when both the reticle and the knobs are based on the same angular unit.

 

Aside from that, there is little to differentiate the three scopes I have here in terms of specs.  All three have gobs of adjustment range, which is very important for long range shooting.  Given a choice, I do not like to operate my scopes near the edge of the adjustment range.

 

Mechanical Quality

I have made a reasonable attempt to break these scopes, and they laughed in my face.  Repeatedly. So I gave up. All three track beautifully. I ran them on a number of rifles from 223Rem to 338Lapua, but mostly used them on 308Win and 8×57 Mauser.  I saw no recoil-associated mechanical problems.  I also know of quite a few S.S. scopes sitting on 50BMG rifles so I doubt durability is a major concern.  Sightron S3 scopes have been around for a while, so I am not particularly concerned about their durability either.  However, fixed power S3 scopes are new, so it remains to be seen how they hold up.

 

These are rather “meat and potatoes” designs, so you do not have a whole lot in term of controls to worry about.  All you have are the windage/elevation knobs, rear parallax and eyepiece focus.

 

The S3 spent most of its time on my 308Win boltgun and I think this configuration is a very good match for it:


 

I also had it mounted on my AR-15 in 223Rem and while it is a good match for tactical uses, I generally like a little more magnification (for shooting at tiny targets).  Still I rotated the three 10×42 scopes between 308Win and 223Rem rifles to make sure this is a fair comparison.  I checked adjustment repeatability with both rifles.  Here is the 10×42 Super Sniper on the AR:



All three scopes tracked well, but as far as the knobs go, the S.S.HD is clearly the best one of the three.  The clicks are stiff, but very well defined.  There is no hysteresis.  They are very easy to reset using only one hex bolt at the top of the turret).  Resetting Sightron S3 or S.S. knobs is no rocket science either, but it does involve four small recessed hex bolts that need to be loosened. Knob feel is very different between the three scopes.  S3 knobs are very light.  They are too light for a tactical scope.  I had these knobs shift on me in transportation, and I had a hard time using them while wearing gloves. The good news is that Sightron is well aware of the problem, and they tell me that click tension of the knobs has been re-adjusted in the current scopes (I have a rather early production version) to be stiffer.  Same for the parallax adjustment knob. On the scope I have it is simply too light.  The knobs on the original S.S. are a little mushier than those on S3, but are reliable and easy to adjust. They are also stiff enough for me to not worry too much about accidentally bumping them.


Optics
Here is where things get complicated.  I have a fair amount of mileage with variable Sightron S3 scopes and like them quite a bit.  This fixed power S3 is quite simply not up to the optical standard set by the other S3 scopes I have seen.  I figured that perhaps I happened to have a bad sample, so I asked around a little bit and while the scope is new there are a few of them out there.  The feedback I got was similar to my impression: decent scope, but not quite as good as expected.
Here is the rundown on the glass:
  • Resolution is pretty decent, but not spectacular for the price.  It is a touch better than the $300 10×42 Super Sniper and a touch worse than the (presumably lower grade) Sightron S2 Big Sky 6-24×42 I happen to have.
  • Contrast is where this scope is most clearly behind the rest of the S3 line.  It just wasn’t as good as I expected.
  • Chromatic aberration was fairly noticeable and is, I suspect, one of the drivers behind the lower than expected contrast.
  • When the conditions were ideal, S3 performed very well.
  • When the light got very bright, there was some white-out flare degrading the image.  For very bright light both of the Super Sniper scopes performed better than the S3.
  • Similarly, when the light got low, the S3 image quality degraded appreciably.  Here, there is something I can not quite explain other than as an aftereffect of insufficient contrast.  Typical low light artefacts like ghost images, flare, etc, were not especially sever.  However, detail definition was dropping as the light was dropping at an alarming rate.

I spent a LOT of time going back and forth between the scopes, two at a time, making sure that I am not seeing things.  Typically I would mount them side by side pointing at the same object, and I repeated the same exercise with varying lighting and on different days.  The results were the same every time.  Here is the Sightron S3 and S.S. HD:

 

Conclusion

The conclusion is really very simple.  I did not like Sightron S3 10×42 very much.  It is a serviceable scope, but the competition is too good.  It held zero and stayed repeatable, but the adjustments were too light.  Glass was uninspiring as well, and while not horrible, it was simply not good enough for the price.
The good old 10×42 Super Sniper is a raging bargain for ~$300, and I can’t recommend shelling out the extra cash ($550) for the 10×42 Sightron S3 (if you are looking for a variable though, I can comfortably recommend the 3.5-10×44 S3.
If you want a step up in performance, I suggest you move up the price range a little bit and spend the $800 on an HD version of the Super Sniper.  I am not aware of a 10×42 scope this side of a S&B, that I would take over the S.S. 10x42HD.

 

Addendum

On a separate note, one feature of Sightron S3 that I did like was the reticle:

S3 reticle

It is a Mil-Dot reticle with half-mil hashmarks added.  I find those additional hashmark facilitate both ranging and holdover.

 Posted by at 2:06 am

  5 Responses to “10×42 riflescopes: Sightron S3 and SWFA Super Sniper”

  1. Hello Ilya thank you For the beautiful reviews.
    Living in Europe the SIII 10X42 seemed the better option to me as a fixed scope, but Your Write made me think.
    What fixed 10x scope do you suggest in the Price range of the SS available in Europe?

    thank you again

    Dave

    • Dave,
      The issues I found with the S3 were subsequently resolved (I had a discussion with Sghtron on that a while back). As it stands right now, the S3 10×42 is a fine scope that is somewhere between the two SWFA offerings in terms of optical quality. What turns me off a bit though is the fact the only version I currently see available has a mrad based reticle and MOA based turrets. Unless for some particularly masochistic reason you prefer mismatched reticle/turret combination, I would look for something else.
      I am not entirely sure what specific application you have in mind, but since you can’t easily get SWFA fixed power scopes in Europe, why not look at a high quality variable of some sort? If you like SIghtron S3 line (as I do), take a close look at the 3.5-10×44. It is very good optically and mechanically and the turrets match the reticle.
      ILya

      • Thank You very much for your opinion Ilya.

        I’m looking for a fixed because they are cheaper than variables being equal the lenses.

        The scope will pair a cz varmint 17hmr, and the range in my town is up to 300 meters.
        I was looking for a scope with enough magnification, good optically, with a lot of vertical adjustment to avoid moa rails and a reticle good for hold over.

        No doubt if I was in USA I would have gone with SS 10x.

        ps: what about the Bushnell Elite tactical 10×42? A little cheaper than SS and available in Europe. It is worth considering?

        Dave

        • The price advantage of fixed power scopes compared to variable is mostly not there, since a lot fewer fixed power scopes are made and the economies of scale are not there. SWFA’s SS lines is one of the few exceptions to that.

          I am not a huge fan of the Elite 10×42 due to lack of parallax adjustment. I woudl take the Hawke Sidewinder 10×42 over that one.