High End Tactical Scopes: East vs West

 

written by ILya Koshkin, 2010

High End Tactical scopes: “East vs West”


The idea of doing this comparison started during the first day of the 2010 SHOT Show when I stumbled into Kelbly’s booth and peered through an array of March scopes.
march

 

Now, I had heard of March and the company behind it (Deon Optical) before, but always thought of them as strictly a maker of high magnification benchrest scopes.  When I decided to read up on March scopes some time before the show, to my considerable surprise, it turned out that March was diversifying its offerings with some models aimed at the tactical market.  Hence, Kelbly’s (March’s exclusive distributor in the US) was one of my first stops during the show.  Peering through a high end scope inside a convention center is not a good way to determine its quality, but I liked what I saw.  The price tag indicated that these are designed to compete against high end German scopes, and I decided to try to arrange exactly that.  The particular March scope that I found most interesting was the 2.5-25×42.  Of all the scopes Kelbly’s had on display this one seemed to offer the most versatility for my needs.  Unfortunately, when you are dealing with a 10x magnification range, it is hard to put together a true apples-to-apples comparison, so I gave up on that pretty early on.  A friend of mine has a Premier Heritage 3-15×50 scope, so I figured I’ll just borrow it from him, throw in my (much cheaper and not designed to compete in this price range, but very familiar to me) 3-18x42FFP IOR and work with that.  After rummaging through my safe a bit, I added one more scope to the mix: SWFA SS 10x42HD.  It is a very different sight (fixed magnification and all), but it is a very well optimized design that, like with the IOR, I have enough mileage with to know exactly how it compares to the rest of the market.  Right around then I finally got my hands on Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 for a thorough test and, by chance, the new IOR 6-24x56FFP was released just in time for me to spend a few days with it.

 

I ended up with a bunch of very dissimilar scopes, so the format of this write-up will be a little different than that of my usual comparison-style articles.  There is no best or worst scope here.

Configurations are dissimilar and prices range from $800 to $2750.  These are all good scopes and I will largely address them individually except for the the Razor HD and IOR 6-24×56.  These two are, in my opinion, directly competing against each other, so I’ll look at them in tandem.

However, I also asked several people not very well familiar with different sporting optics brands to look through the scopes and give me their impressions.  I made sure that the magnifications they used minimized the exit pupil differences, and  I did not tell them what these scopes cost until after they looked at them.  All I wanted from them was to look through the scopes side by side and tell me which looked better to them and why.

The rest of this write-up will stick with the following outline:
1) Specs overview and Field of View discussion
2) “Guys at the range” impressions
3) My impressions of each scope

Here is the spec table:

 

March Tactical 2.5-25×42

IOR Valdada 3-18×42

Premier Heritage 3-15×50

Vortex Razor HD

5-20×50

SWFA S.S. HD

10×42

IOR Valdada 6-24×56

Length, in

12.36

13.5

13.6

15.8

13.5

16

Weight, oz

21.9

28

38

35.2

20

36

Main Tube Diameter

30mm

35mm

34mm

35mm

30mm

35mm

Eye Relief, in

3.66

3.35

3.54

3.9

3.75

3.75

FOV, ft@100yards

42.16 – 4.19

10.48@10x

31 – 7.5

13.5@10x

37.2 – 7.8

12.6@10x

21 – 5.2

10.48@10x

10.5

16 – 6

14.4@10x

Click Value

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

Adjustment range

28 mrad

22 mrad

34 mrad

36 mrad

38 mrad

16 mrad

Adjustment per turn

10 mrad

10 mrad

22 mrad

5 mrad

5 mrad

10 mrad

Reticle Position

SFP

FFP

FFP

FFP

FFP

Price

$2750 ill

$1500

$2750

$2000

$800

$1900

Country of Origin

Japan

Romania

Germany/ US

Japan

Japan

Romania


Here is what we can glean from the table above:

  • There is a clear difference in sizes: Razor HD and IOR 6-24×56 are appreciably larger than than the rest of the scopes, although the more compact Premier is just as heavy.
  • March, despite the crazy magnification range, is very svelte (essentially the same size as the S.S. 10x42HD (both have 30mm tubes vs the 34 and 35mm ones on the rest of the scopes here)
  • There is a distinct difference in the Fields of View of Japanese and European scopes.  At the same magnification Japanese scopes have narrower FOV values (more on this shortly).
  • The 3-18x42FFP IOR has the shortest eye relief at 3.35” with the rest of the scopes being between 3.5” and 3.9”.
  • Both IOR scopes have less adjustment range than the rest of the designs here, most notably, the 6-24x56FFP only has 16 mrads of adjustment.  For long range shooting I prefer to have a little more (the upcoming IOR 3.5-18x50FFP should have a little more adjustment).  The 3-18×42 with 22mrad has proven to be perfectly sufficient for my needs and more adjustment adds a little extra flexibility.
  • Also note: the field of view of the 6-24×56 IOR at 10x is essentially the same as that of the 3-18×42 IOR despite the former having appreciably more eye relief.  IOR’s new eyepiece on the 6-24×56 scope is pretty impressive.
  • SWFA S.S. and Razor HD only have 5 mrads of adjustment per turn of the knob.  That is enough for most needs, but I prefer the 10 mrads on the other scopes here.  Premier’s 22 mrads are even better, but not very common.  10 mrads is enough to get out to 1000yards with some 308Win loads and with flatter shooting cartridges.  That seems like a good criterion for me.
  • March is the only SFP scope here, but a FFP version will be available next year.


After compiling the spec table above, I decide to dig into the FOV differences between Japanese and European scopes in a little more detail, so I put together the angular and linear Fields of View for a number of modern scopes in the 2.5x to 25x  magnification range (determined by the March scope I was playing with).  I had to calculate some of the numbers, so I may be slightly off occasionally, but I do not think there are any gross errors there.  I also did not list ALL of the magnification values in the range I was looking at, but included Low and High settings for every scope in the table below.

FOV

Every scope listed, aside from the IOR 3-18x42FFP, has between 3.5” and 4” of eyerelief, so the FOV differences do not correlate with eye relief differences.  Perhaps it is coincidental, but all of the Japanese scopes here seem to have effectively the same field of view (Nightforce is slightly wider than others) that is narrower than that of the Euro scopes.  I am not sure what I can attribute this geographical difference to.  Perhaps, there is some design commonality to all the Japanese scopes listed here since they are all from Light Optics Works (top end Japanese OEM) or its former employees.

Either way, perhaps FOV is the one aspect where the Euro makers still hold an edge, because I have got to admit that high end Japanese scopes are really getting better every year and the highest end scopes (March) seem to be able to hang with just about anyone.


“Guys at the range” impressions

This was done in broad daylight with scopes set-up side-by-side with four different people looking through them, most not very familiar with scope brands.  I did not have the IOR 6-24x56FFP with me yet, so it was not part of the side-by-side.  From left to right: SWFA S.S. 10x42HD, March 2.5-25×42, Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50, IOR 3-18x42FFP, Premier Heritage 3-15×50:

group1

 

Most of this comparison was done at 5x and 10x, so I doubt that exit pupil size was a major factor.  However, I did also ask them to look at the scopes at 15x later on.  I did not provide any background to the prices of these scopes, where they are made or my opinions on their quality.  I also asked the guys looking at the scopes to not discuss their impressions with each other until they tell me what they think.  I also did not tell them what to look for.  The instructions were very simple: “look through the scopes side by side and tell me which one you like the most (or least) and why”.

Please note that this was done before I got my hands onto the 6-24×56 IOR, so the only IOR they looked at was the 3-18x42FFP.

All four of the people looking through the scopes thought that, on balance, Premier was the best one optically.  Two thought that March was right there with the Premier, partially because they liked the smaller size of it and (for one guy) because of the fine reticle.  He is a target shooter and for him the ultra fine aiming point was a big deal.

Overall Conclusions from the four testers at 5x and 10x:
Tester A: Premier > Vortex Razor > March > IOR (this guy did not look at the S.S. HD)
Tester B: Premier > March > Vortex Razor > S.S. HD > IOR
Tester C: Premier = March > Vortex Razor > IOR > S.S. HD
Tester D: Premier >= March > Vortex Razor >= IOR >= S.S. HD

Overall Conclusions from the four testers at 15x were the same except for Tester A:
Tester A: Premier > March > Vortex Razor > IOR

Tester A did not like the 3-18×42 IOR at all.  He said he just could not get comfortable with it and thought that eyerelief was too short.  Also, after some discussion, it turned out that he was not familiar with the side focus knob operation, so he never adjusted it.  I suspect that makes his impressions not particularly relevant, except upon further questioning he admitted that he was mostly looking at objects at the 300yard line, which is where I was looking at before and the side-focus knobs were adjusted for that range.  While I still do not trust his impressions too much, I figured I’ll list them anyway.  Generally, the way he was looking through the scopes really put scopes with shallow depth of field at a disadvantage (which likely explains the discrepancy in his impressions of the March with everyone else’s).

After all was said and done, I told them how much all these scopes cost.  With that information available, the 10×42 S.S. HD comfortably moved to the front of the line if spending your own money was involved.

With that out of the way, here are my observations on each scope.

March Tactical 2.5-25×42

Mechanically, this is probably the most polished and well-executed design I have seen yet.  All controls are butter smooth and work perfectly.  Adjustments are not too heavy and not too light.

Knobs track accurately and zero-stop is the easiest to use of all I have seen so far.  Putting detents on the zoom ring at 5x, 10x and 20x magnifications is a nice touch.  It makes ranging with a SFP reticle easier.  In this picture you have a good look at the knobs and you can see the magnification settings with detents (they are in red):

MarchKnobs

 

In the middle of the elevation knob, there is a slotted disk marked “0-SET”.  In the picture above the Zero-Stop is not set.  In order to set it, all you have to do is, once you are properly sighted in, rotate it clockwise (using a coin or a screwdriver) until it stops.  That is it.  And it works perfectly.  Here is a picture where the ZeroStop is set (it looks recessed here):
March_ZS_on

The Windage and Elevation knobs are of comparatively large diameter, but fairly low profile.  That is the type I prefer, since they are easy to adjust, but do not stick out so much that they catch on everything.  0.1mrad clicks have superb feel, and the adjustments are as accurate as on any scope I have ever seen.  Both the 1-10×24 and 2.5-25×42 have these knobs, while the higher magnification models are equipped with somewhat taller (but still not huge) knobs and a different ZeroStop mechanism.

Side focus adjustment knob was perfectly smooth and did not exhibit any hysteresis no matter how carefully I looked for it.  The scope can focus down to 10 yards, which is pretty impressive considering the magnification.

Reticle illumination is controlled via a rubberized push button integrated into the Side Focus knob:

March_ill

When you order the scope you get to choose one of two types of illumination control: low intensity and high intensity.  The scope I tested had the high intensity option, which cycles through four illumination levels that I found suitable for conditions from dusk to daylight.  The low intensity option, which also offers four illumination levels, is supposed to be quite a bit dimmer, so I suspect it will work perfectly in low light.  Even the illumination levels that I played with, while brighter than I like for really low light, did not exhibit any bleeding or undue reflections.


The reticle itself, called MML by March,  is mil-based and accurate at 10x (this is a SFP design).  There is a detent at 10x, so you can set the magnification without looking at the magnification ring. There are also detents at 5x and 20x, so that you can range with the reticle subtensions at either 2mrads or 0.5mrads.  Here is what the reticle looks like:

mml
The thin lines are very precise but occasionally hard to see, so reticle illumination comes in quite handy.  At 10x, this reticle provides 20mils of subtensions for ranging or holdover.  I could range rather precisely with the reticle, but I generally prefer somewhat thicker designs.  Still, as far as SFP reticles go, this is one of the better ones.  However, I am looking forward to checking out the upcoming FFP version.

The eyepiece focus is of a traditional variety where you rotate the whole eyepiece and then use the lock ring to fix it in its place.  However, the threads are sufficiently coarse to make the whole procedure fairly quick.

March comes with a 3 inch sunshade and in the following pictures it is mounted on the objective bell.

The scope survived my 338LM with ease and then spent some time on an AR-15.  Here is a snapshot of it on DTA SRS:
March_DTA

And here is the March on top of my AR-15 (YHM upper).  DTA SRS with Vortex Razor HD is right next to it (that mount was too high, so I ended up yanking out the riser later).
March_on_AR

I tortured the knobs with the scopes on both rifles, but more so on the AR-15 (if you wonder why, compare the cost of 338Lapua ammo and 223Rem).  Adjustments were perfect.  I test adjustments on a 2ft by 4ft target at 100yards, so those are the limits of how much I can adjust.  The range goes out to 700yards, so I got to twist the knobs a bit when trying to hit plates out to that distance.  I encountered exactly zero problems.  While I was at it, I also checked reticle calibration and it was spot on.

 

The only assembly-related quirk I was able to find is that it looks like some epoxy managed to leak ever so slightly into the optical path and the edge of it is visible at 2.5x in the 11o’clock position.  At 3x, it is already not visible, so I do not think it is a big deal at all.  


It is a very minor thing, but the build quality of this March scope is so flawless otherwise that I have nothing else to whine and complain about.  

Optically, there really isn’t much I can complain about either.  The scope is superb.  The resolution is absolutely spectacular.  Contrast is not quite as good, but still very decent, even for this exalted price range.  The color balance is very natural and the contrast is not at all bad by any means.  As far as “seeing things” goes, the image does not “pop” as much as it does on the (higher contrast) Premier, for example, but you can see very minute details once you pay attention to them.  In terms of actually resolving details March was just as good as the Premier when at the same magnification, despite the smaller objective lens.  Couple that with the fact that you can dial the March up to a considerably higher magnification and you’ll understand why I am so impressed.

 

The field of view story is similar: Premier has wider FOV at 3x than March, but you can dial March down to 2.5x if you are so inclined.  It does not completely negate the FOV advantage that the Premier has at each magnification, but it does help.


Aberrations and various edge effects are well controlled (i.e. I had a hard time finding any).  CA is minimal.  March must be putting that ED glass to good use.  Eye relief is sufficiently flexible for my purposes (eye relief flexibility was similar to Premier Heritage) and does not change with magnification.  It is also long enough for almost any reasonable use I can think of.  At no time did I come even close to getting hit by the scope.  

 

 

There is no perceptible tunnel effect at low magnifications.  As you dial the magnification down, the field of view gets wider.  The barely noticeable black ring around the field of view does not get any thicker.

In terms of optical/imaging performance, in my opinion, this scope has a couple of (comparative) weaknesses, which might be some of the compromises of that crazy 10x magnification ratio, so it may simply be a choice of what is important to you:

1) Field of view is not very wide.  It is not narrow either and, as discussed above, is typical for top end Japanese scopes.  High end euro scopes tend to have wider fields of view.  However, considering the huge magnification range, if you want more FOV, just dial it down a touch.
2) Depth of field is fairly shallow.  For tactical usage greater depth of field us usually a good thing.  Looking at the scope, I suspect that the focal length of the objective lens system is quite short, making it a low F/# design.  Perhaps, that makes the DOF shallower.

Interestingly, because of the shallow depth of field, it is very easy to focus the image with the side-focus knob.  You know exactly when you have achieved perfect focus.  I suspect that helps with truly eliminating parallax at a given distance.  Speaking of parallax: I did not run into any parallax problems with the March; side focus knob worked perfectly.  Operating the scope was absolutely trouble free: focus on the target, dial in elevation, hold for wind (I tend to use the reticle for wind compensation, except for rather extreme conditions), pull the trigger.

I am not sure whether this is related to shallow depth of field, but March was also very good in seeing through mirage.  I spent a fair amount of time at the range on hot days here in Southern California where heat coming off the ground is a serious problem.  March was very good for that.

Low light performance was quite exceptional, especially considering the moderate objective lens size.  Despite the apparently complicated optical construction, flare, ghost images and other artefacts were very well controlled.  Comparatively narrow field of view and moderate contrast tend to effect low light performance a little, but the otherwise superb optical system of the March really helped there.  I thought that March would perform worse in low light than it did.

In a nutshell, I thought the scope kicks ass and the magnification range is astounding.  The fact that the optical compromises are fairly minor is even more impressive.

I was blown away by how trim it is despite the versatility and by how good low light performance was despite the obvious complexity of the optical system.

On various internet forums, one of the most common discussion topics is something along these lines:  “if you could only have one rifle, what would that be?”  For me it would be a boltgun of some sort, but I am not sure which exact one.  However, if I could only have one rifle, I would have a March 2.5-25×42 scope sitting on it (likely the upcoming FFP version).  It is the best “do everything” scope I have seen yet.

One last thing I have to add is the warranty information.  The warranty is for five years only and it looks like it is going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.  Having played with the scope and having talked to Kelbly’s about how many of these ever came back, I am not sure I care.   I liked the design too much and five years is enough to reveal any manufacturing defects a scope may have.  However, this obviously comes down to personal preference.

Premier Heritage 3-15×50

I do not think I am going to disclose any new information about this scope, that is not out there already.  Since the Premier came from a friend of mine who has been running it on his rifle for a while, I did not bother to check the adjustment accuracy.  He already did it and I do not recall him complaining (and if there was a problem, he would be).  I mostly wanted to look at the Premier Heritage as a top end Euro scope to compare with the March.  In all fairness, I could have chosen to look at Premier’s competitors as well.  However, I was looking for the highest erector ratio scope available and, at the time when all of this was happening, both S&B and Hensoldt only had 4x erectors, while the Premier had a 5x magnification range.  

Here is another look at the scopes side-by-side.  Premier 3-15×50 is on the right (IOR 3-18x42FFP is just to he left of it):
group2

 

Mechanically, the Premier 3-15×50 and March 2.5-25×42 are both absolutely superb, but could not be more different from each other.  Where March is smooth and svelte, the Premier reeks of “heavy duty”.  It is built like a tank: while only about an inch longer than the March, it is ~70% heavier.  The controls are smooth but quite stiff.  Turning just about anything requires a lot more effort with the Premier than with the March.  On the other hand, you can be quite certain than no adjustment will ever be turned accidentally on the Premier.  Then there is that single-turn knob that I thought was a step above the rest as far as long range shooting goes.  It is nice to never have to worry which turn you are on.  Don’t get me wrong, 10mrads of the March is plenty for most needs, but 22mrads of the Premier gives you a bit extra margin.  It is sufficient to take my 338LM just beyond its supersonic range, so I can safely assume it is appropriate for just abut any long range cartridge out there.


Here is a closer look at the PH’s turrets:

 

premier_turrets

 

Optically,  Premier is, yet again, absolutely superb, but very different from March.  One of the more remarkable things about it is how huge the depth of field is.  The view through the scope is very three-dimensional and requires very little use of the side-focus knob for observation.  Resolution is excellent, as is contrast.  The image really “pops” for lack of a better word and has a lot of texture to it.  Color balance is quite accurate, but colors almost look more saturated than they do with my naked eye.  I suspect this perception is a by-product of the enhanced contrast.   Similarly to the March, there is no tunnel vision whatsoever.  This scope is so easy to look through that for a while there I set it up on a tripod and used it simply for observation like a spotting scope.  Most remarkably, I developed very little eye fatigue while doing it.

Low light performance is spectacular.  At low magnifications where exit pupil did not play a role it was fairly similar to March and maybe marginally better owing to its wider field of view.  At higher magnifications, Premier’s 50mm objective lens started to make a difference at about 8-9x or so.

Similarly to the March, I could not get the scope to produce any sort of meaningfully unpleasant low light artefacts.  Flare was well controlled as was stray light.  Even my “Ventura Pier” test with all the various bright light sources left the Premier (and the March) totally un-phased (this image is artificially brightened in post-processing so that you can see something other than those lights, and it was a 2sec exposure anyway):

pier

I think my fairly high end camera lens is showing more flare than either March or Premier did.

Bottom line is that the Premier Heritage is a purpose-built tactical scope.  There is a fair amount of versatility that goes with its 3-15×50 configuration, but still the scope is big and heavy.  Both optical and mechanical quality are superb, but it is a tactical scope and there is no pretense of it being something else.

In terms of pure image quality, at the same magnification I liked Premier a touch more than March owing to better contrast and FOV.  However, this is not a strictly apples-to-apples comparison since the objective lenses are of different diameter.  To muddy things up further, the March is lighter and has a more versatile magnification range.  As always, the choice between the two would come down to personal preference.

IOR Valdada 6-24×56 and Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50

As much as I liked both March and Premier, my chance of being able to afford either one is fairly slim.  The next two scopes I will talk about are still expensive, but measurably more affordable.

These two scopes are similarly sized and similarly configured so they make for a good comparison.  Here they are side-by-side:
ior_razor

The angle from which the picture is taken makes the IOR look a bit bigger than the Razor HD, but in reality they are very close in size.

Both are large scopes and they seem to be fairly well built.  While I did not try to destroy the IOR (I only had it for a fairly short time), I had a longer stint with the Razor.  Vortex suggested that there is no need to be kind to it and I wasn’t.  The only damage it suffered was a dead battery.

If I had to pick a scope to bludgeon someone to death with, one of these two would easily do the trick (although I have to admit that the eyepiece of the IOR makes a better handle: Razor’s eyepiece-mounted illumination control knob gets in the way).

Both of these scopes are built on beefy 35mm tubes, have large exposed windage and elevation knobs with 0.1mrad clicks and side-focus parallax adjustments.  Both have ZeroStop adjustments built into the elevation knob.  I think I like Vortex’ implementation a little more, but both work.

IOR also has a “secondary aiming point” built into the elevation knob.  It is a little stub (you can see it in the picture above) that rotates around the elevation knob and can be set for a specific bullet drop point that you often use.  For example, you can use the ZeroStop for your regular zero (200 yards for my 338, for example), and the “Secondary Aiming Point” for 600 yards if that is a common shooting distance.  Honestly, I am not sure I like that particular feature too much, since the environmental conditions likely have a considerable effect on where that secondary aiming point is supposed to be.  However, it does not seem to get in the way, so I do not mind it being there either.

The elevation knob on the Razor is probably the tallest I have seen yet:


I generally prefer lower (but still large in diameter) knobs like those on the March.  Both Premier and IOR also have lower knobs.  I suppose one advantage that a taller knob has is that it is easier to see what setting you are on without moving your head too much (I suspect that red fiber optics indicator is helpful in that regard).  The one serious (in my opinion) weakness of this knob design is not the height, however.  The height is mostly a matter of personal preference.  It certainly gives you a lot of grip area, and for along range precision rifle, it is unlikely to get in the way.  While the clicks are widely spaced and easily tactile, the adjustment per complete turn is only 5mrads.  I found the 10mrad per turn adjustment of other scopes here to be considerably easier to use (not to mention the 22mrad Premier).  I hope that future versions of this scope will offer an option of larger adjustment per turn.  On the plus side, the overall adjustment range is very generous at 36mrads, and the adjustment accuracy on this scope has been spot on in my testing (please keep in mind, that I only check the adjustment by shooting so the limiting factor is likely my skills more than anything else).

Vortex Razor has a rather standard reticle illumination knob on the eyepiece.  The knob is fairly low profile, but still easy to grab.  The illumination brightness range is very well sorted out for operation in low light.  While not fancy looking, Razor’s illumination is well calibrated and functional.  I think IOR’s push-buttons are a more elegant execution, but I am not sure which is easier to use.

IOR’s windage and elevation knobs were similarly accurate, and I liked the 10mrad per turn of the elevation knob.  What I did not like was the 16mrads of total adjustment range.  I would like to see more internal adjustment on a scope that is otherwise a very good option for long range shooting.  Even as is, it is quite useable, but I would prefer a little more adjustment for my peace of mind.

I have to admit I did not experiment with how well the IOR’s Zero Stop worked, but it seems like a fairly straight forward design: you loosen the collar arounf the elevation knob, slide it down and fix it in place.  That makes for a hard stop for the knob, so that it can not move beyond a certain point.

Side focus on both scopes operated quite precisely.  Razor HD had a little more travel in the knob and I found it slightly easier to use than the IOR’s faster adjustment, but both worked fine and the difference between them is more a matter of getting used to them.

IOR 6-24x56FFP has the new illumination system that consists of two rubberized push-buttons on the turret box just behind the side focus knob:
ior_ill

 

The new illumination system is easy to use and it remembers its last setting when you next turn it on (and it has an Auto-OFF feature, so that the battery does not die because you forgot to turn the bloody thing off).  The only part of the reticle that is illuminated is the center dot, which I like.  It is unlikely to effect your night vision and it produces no noticeable bleeding even in very low light.  Some people like to have the whole middle part of the reticle illuminated (like in the Razor HD), while others think only the aiming point should stand out.  I am not wholly decided on which I prefer, but I like IOR’s reticle with only the center dot illuminated.  

Speaking of reticles, the IOR has the modified MP-8 reticle (the A5 version designed on SnipersHide by John Boyette of Trace Armory Group) that I am very fond of:
MP8_A5
while the Razor came with the somewhat more complicated EBR-2):
EBR-2

I am not really sure which reticle I like more, to be honest.  I am very used to the MP-8-A5 and I am probably more comfortable with it than with other ranging reticles.  However, for those who prefer to use reticle holdover, the EBR-2 is likely a better choice.  That “Christmas Tree” arrangement of dots allows for rather precise hold that compensates for both wind and bullet drop.  As far as ranging goes, I thought both reticles were pretty similar in that regard.  I suspect that EBR-3 reticle, also available in the Razor, would make for more precise ranging, but I would need to play with it a bit more to be sure.  While this reticle may look complicated, with all those dots, in practice, it was not the case.  Since the reticle is in the front focal plane, you only see those little dots when you crank up the magnification.  For typical usage at lower magnifications, you do not see them and they do not get in the way.

While mechanically, the IOR and Razor HD largely run neck in neck, optically they are very different, and once again the choice comes down to what is important for your specific needs.

In terms of pure image quality, IOR 6-24x56FFP is a better scope than the Razor for magnifications from about 11x on upwards: the field of view is wider, resolution and contrast are a little better, depth of field is about the same.  In terms of pure image quality this is the best IOR scope I have seen yet (and just for the record, I have seen a LOT of IOR scopes over the years).  Between 11x and 15x it is almost as good as the more expensive Premier, and you can only see that Premier is marginally better during the worst of the lighting conditions where the IOR has a touch more flare.  It is that close.

The eyepiece on the IOR 6-24×56 is a new design and I am very impressed with it.  The eyerelief does not change with magnification and it is remarkably flexible.  It takes a lot of eye movement to lose the sight picture.  One interesting side effect of that incredibly flexible eyerelief is that you can induce some longitudinal chromatic aberration by accidentally having your eye too close or too far from the eyepiece.  That chromatic aberration is not noticeable when your eye is exactly in the right spot.  All things considered, however, I’d rather still have the sight picture even with some CA than not have it at all when my eye is not perfectly place behind the scope.

Now for the bad part: while optically the IOR is quite good, it is really a 9.5-24×56.  Below 9.5x, FOV does not get any larger, all you get by dialing magnification further down is additional tunnel effect.  I can tolerate some tunnel vision, but I found this to be quite annoying.  From 9.5x up to about 12x or thereabouts, there is some visible rectilinear distortion near the edges, but I am not especially bothered by it.  I find the tunnel vision a fair bit more disturbing.

The Razor HD is also very good optically, but it suffered a little in this comparison, sitting next to March, Premier and the new IOR.  However, in terms of ability to see detail, it was a bit better than the very well regarded IOR 3-18x42FFP that I also had on hand.  The field of view of the Razor was not as wide as that of the Euro scopes, but on the other hand, there was no tunnel effect whatsoever.  Depth of field was quite good (as expected for such a long scope), as were resolution and contrast.  I think that the overall optical design of the Razor is very good for the money, and it is especially impressive that it was achieved together with a very large adjustment range (36mrad).  Low light performance was, as expected, quite excellent and the ability to dial down the magnification without incurring any tunneling really helped there.

 

Looking at this IOR and at the Razor HD in low light, was pretty interesting: as you increases magnification IOR lurched ahead, but as you dialed it down the Razor was beginning to look better in comaprison.


Eye relief on the Razor HD is long and constant; however, it is not quite as flexible as on the new IOR (6-24x56FFP).  Still, I did not run into any problems with eye position while shooting the Razor.

Bottom line is that if you are looking for the best tactical scope in this price range, there are not all that many options.  The Premier, S&B, Hensoldt and USO are appreciably more expensive.

Leupold Tactical and a few others are cheaper and generally not as good.  For ~$2k, your options are pretty simple: Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 and a couple of IOR models like the new 6-24x56FFP I just looked at and the similarly new 3.5-18×50 that I have not seen yet.  Kahles has a couple of K models in this price range, but they have SFP reticle and non-matching knobs (Mil reticle and MOA knobs).  Nightforce’s similarly equipped FFP scope is more expensive, and has a rather different magnification range.

Between the two scopes I just discussed, I would probably take the Razor HD as a better sorted out tactical scope.  Lack of tunnel effect and large adjustment range are important.  As a target scope, I would probably lean more toward the IOR with its superior high magnification image.

Both scopes looked very much at home on my 338LM, and that is probably an application that scopes this big are best suited for anyway.

IOR Valdada 3-18x42FFP “Snipershide Special”

This IOR model has been around for a while and mine is from the 1st generation batch.  I am not going to go into much detail about it, but I figured it is worth saying a few words (besides, I’ve talked about it extensively in other articles).

I mostly included it in the comparison as a “baseline” since I have compared it to so many other designs out there.  Comparing it to March and other scopes in this article gives me an opportunity to figure out how they rank compared to the rest of the field.

It also made me think a little about how this scope stacks up with the competition today.  Honestly, it still stacks are pretty well.  Despite being pretty beat up, mechanically the scope has not given me any trouble (there was a problem with the first batch of this design, but it looks to have been resolved in subsequent generations).

Optically, it was not as good as the newer and more expensive designs I compared it to.  However, it was not all that far behind.  There is a little tunnel vision between 3x and 4x, but for the rest of the magnification range the field of view is nice and wide.  Depth of field is excellent as are resolution and contrast.  I am having trouble thinking of a similarly configured scope for ~$1500 that would be as good.  Colors are slightly warm, but that does not bother me.  Reticle is rather thick, but the open center does not hinder precision shooting and it is very easy to use in low light (there is no reticle illumination on this one).

This is not a light scope, but it is fairly compact and offers very useful magnification range.

Eye relief is a little shorter than I typically like, but then again, it usually sits on my 338Lapua where it has not hit me yet.

In some ways, this the “poor man’s March”.  IOR 3-18×42 and March 2.5-25×42 are similarly sized (IOR is on the right in the picture below), although IOR is a bit beefier.  While March is ultimately a more flexible design, the IOR is also no slouch there and it is almost twice cheaper.  I would love to be able to afford the March when the FFP version comes out, but in the meantime, I am quite happy with the IOR.
IOR_March


SWFA SS 10x42HD

This is another one of my “baseline” scopes.

As a matter of clarification, this is not the original Super Sniper 10×42, which is a very good $300 scope, but would not in any way belong in this category.  This the newer HD model made in a different factory (same place that makes the Vortex Razor HD) and sharing nothing with the original scope except for the name.

It is a very “meat and potatoes” design: fixed 10x magnification, MilDot reticle, 0.1mrad knobs.  That’s it, but it works like a charm and the optical quality belies its $800 price tag.  At 10x, the resolution is similar to the IOR 3-18×42, but contrast is a touch better and color balance is perfectly neutral.

Mechanical quality is rock solid (I tried to break it, but it laughed at me).  Adjustments are flawless.  Adjustment range is huge.  Eyerelief is fairly long and quite flexible.  The scope is reasonably compact and neither very light nor heavy.  It is the only scope here that has a rear parallax adjustments.  For me personally, I t does not make much difference, but it is definitely easier for lefties to deal with.

I wish the knobs had more than 5mrad per turn adjustments, but for the  money I am not going to complain too much.  Besides, there are some nicely visible indicators on the turrets that tell me where in the adjustment range I am.  The knobs are very easy to reset.
SSHD

I have had a chance to look at this scope side by side with the much more expensive Leupold Mark 4 10×40 and the S.S. is a step above.  I can only think of one 10×42 scope that outperforms the 10x42HD S.S. and that it the $1800 Schmidt and Bender PMII.

Final Thoughts

As I warned above, this was not all that much of a comparison since the scopes I looked at were very dissimilar in both design and pricing.  After spending a lot of time with them, I did come out with some conclusions though:

  1. If you want the best, you have to be willing to pay for it.  Scopes like the new IOR 6-24x56FFP and Vortex Razor HD (which are not exactly cheap to start with) are snapping at the hills of the likes of Premier Heritage and March, but are not quite as good yet.
  2. However, the differences are fairly small and if you are willing to make some compromises you can save a fair amount of money without losing all that much performance.
  3. New IOR gets you close in high magnification image quality, while the Razor HD is a superb allround design.
  4. If you are really opposed to spending more than $1k on a scope, with S.S. 10x42HD you can still get  mechanical and optical quality that is right up there with the really expensive stuff, but be prepared to give up some features.  Still, as far as the basics go, the S.S. HD can hang in there with some very expensive stuff.

 

Here is where the scopes used in this article came from:

  • March 2.5-25×42 was provided by Kelbly’s
  • Premier Heritage 3-15×50 was loaned to me by my friend Jeff
  • IOR 6-24x56FFP was provided by Liberty Optics
  • Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 was provided by Vortex Optics
  • IOR 3-18x42FFP and SWFA S.S. 10x42HD were provided by ….. well, me.  These are my two favourite scopes of all the ones I own.

 

Copyright ILya Koshkin 2010.  All Rights Reserved

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