High End Tactical Scopes: Part II

 

This article is a follow up to High End Tactical: East vs West.

 

High End Tactical Scopes: Part II

In the past, I never spent a whole lot of time on the most expensive scopes out there, designs I refer to as “High End Tactical”.  While these scopes are a LOT of fun to play with, I never really had an opportunity to test several of them side-by-side.  Then at SHOT 2010, I ran into Jim Kelbly, who was adventurous enough to let some Joe Shmoe from the Internet (namely, me) borrow a March 2.5-25×42 scope for testing.  I do not like to do solo reviews, since it is very difficult to relate my impressions without comparison to a known quantity.  For example, if I tell you that scope A was in some way better than scope B, unless you are familiar with one of these scopes, it does not give a whole lot of useful information to work with.  Now that I had that March scope on the way, I was forced to scramble a bit and get my hands on a few nice scopes for a proper comparison.  After it was all said and done, I wrote a “:Part 1” article, titled “High End Tactical: East vs West”.  It was not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it was the best I could do under the circumstances.
There was a lot of positive response to the first article, so I decided to put together a follow-up that would make for more of an apples-to-apples comparison.  With SHOT Show 2011 right around the corner, I am sure there will be some new product introductions for this rarefied market segment, and I wanted to round up the “state of the art” tactical scopes as of late 2010.  When selecting the scopes I imposed a few restrictions on the choices:

  • All scopes I was going to look at had to have reticles in the Front Focal Plane (FFP).  In my mind, these scopes are designed to engage targets of varying size at varying (and unknown) distances, so they had to be set-up for both ranging and trajectory compensation (either via the reticle or knobs).
  • For these scopes, I was looking at maximum versatility, so they all had to have sufficiently flexible magnification available to engage targets that are both fairly close and quite far.  I was aiming for a low-end of 4x or less, with the high end magnification of 15x or more.

Originally, I did not intend to have quite so many scopes for this article.  Some were no-brainers: Hensoldt, Premier, S&B and US Optics.  Usually, when people talk about high end tactical scopes, they mean one of these four brands.  However, most of us (me included) can not afford to spend that much on a scope, so I thought it would be natural to include a couple of scopes that are a step down in price.  Aside from wanting to have a good look at them, I thought it worthwhile to see what you give up if you go with one of these compared to the uber-expensive stuff.  With that in mind, I figured I should look at Nightforce and IOR.  Nightforce has a tremendous reputation for being mechanically superb.  On top of that, in the last couple of years, they made some features available that were of interest to me: FFP reticle and Hi-Speed knobs.  IOR just came out with two new scope models that have a redesigned eyepiece, so I thought they were worth a look.  For those of us who do not like the idea of dropping ~$2k on a scope, I included a scope I already had on hand: SWFA S.S. 10x42HD.  It is not really comparable to the rest of the scopes here in terms of features, but it is very well built and comparatively inexpensive.  After some thought, I decided to add a Leupold to the mix as well, since it has a lot of traction with law enforcement and military (an interesting tidbit is that I  ran into a former Army ranger at the range while testing these scopes.  He was thoroughly unimpressed when I showed him Hensoldt, S&B and others.  All he ever shot in the military were Leupolds and he was totally convinced that nothing else even comes close).   March is new to the tactical scope market segment and when Jim Kelbly offered to loan me a prototype of a first FFP March scope, I added it to the comparison.

I have to admit that I had an absolute blast using these scopes and, in practical terms, I could comfortably live with almost all of them (you’ll understand the “almost” shortly).  It is also a lot of fun to come to the range with an assortment like this.  There is just something about showing up with $22k+ worth of riflescopes. Here is the range officer who was walking by and thought that Christmas came early this year.  Too bad I had to tell him that none of these are going home with him (he briefly considered putting up a fight about that, but I am about 80lbs heavier so he chose against it):

Here is the spec table that contains all the numbers one could find by browsing the internet and sending out some e-mails to manufacturers.  I am also adding the S.S. 10x42HD for comparison.  It did surprisingly well in the original article, so I figured it makes for a nice way to maintain continuity.

March Tactical 3-24×42

FFP

Hensoldt

4-16×56

FF

Premier Heritage 3-15×50 DT

IOR 3.5-18×50 FFP

Nightforce NXS F1 3.5-15×50

S&B PMII

4-16×50

Leupold ER/T 4.5-14×50

US Optics SN-3 T-Pal 3.2-17×44

SWFA S.S. HD 10×42

Length, in

12.36

13.2

13.6

14

14.7

15.5

12.5

16.5

13.5

Weight, oz

21.9

31.8

38

35

30

32

21

33.6

20

Main Tube

30mm

34mm

34mm

35mm

30mm

34mm

30mm

30mm

30mm

ER, in

3.66

3.8 – 4.0

3.54

3.75

3.9

3.7

4.4 – 3.6

3.5

3.75

FOV, ft

@100yds

35 – 4.3

10.5@10x

26.1 -7.5

12@10x

37.2 – 7.8

11.7@10x

30.5 – 6.8

12.2@10x

27.6 – 7.3

10.9@10x

22.5 – 7.5

12@10x

20.2 – 8.2

11.9@10x

25.3 – 8.3

14.1@10x

10.5

Click Value

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1mrad

0.1mrad

0.1mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

0.1 mrad

1 turn Adj

10 mrad

12 mrad

15 mrad

10 mrad

10 mrad

13 mrad

5 mrad

9 mrad

5 mrad

Total Adj Range

28 mrad

V: 22 mil

H: 10 mil

34 mrad

20 mrad

E: 32mrad W: 22mrad

16 mrad

29 mrad

E: 22mrad W: 16mrad

38 mrad

Reticle

FML-1, ill

MilDot,

ill

MilDot Gen2, ill

Mod MP-8, ill

MLR, ill

P4F

ill

Horus H27  non-ill

Mil-scale GAP, ill

MilDot non-ill

Parallax Adj

SF

SF

SF

SF

SF

SF

SF

SF

Rear

Price

$2850 ill

$2250 non-ill

$3400

$2800

$1750

$2290

$3150

$2180/

$1600

$2600

$800

Country of Origin

Japan

Germany

Germany/US

Romania

Japan/US

Germany

Japan/

US

US

Japan

Simply looking at the prices of these scopes, I can roughly subdivide them into three sets of direct competitors: Hensoldt and S&B both run over $3k and clearly compete for the same customer.  March, Premier and US Optics (as configured) are similarly priced (to each other) and cheaper than Hensoldt and S&B.  However, all five are largely aimed at the same target market.  This is the “no compromise” price range.  If you are looking at any of these, that means you are willing to pay and the choice likely comes down to specific features.  On the other hand, the rest of the contenders (IOR, Leupold and Nightforce) are a step below in terms of price.  That usually implies some sort of a compromise has been made to keep them a little more affordable.  Still, these are expensive scopes and, aside from comparing them to each other, I am also trying to determine how they stand up to the uber-top end products like Hensoldt et al.  Ideally, I would have liked to still have the Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 to compare with these, but I already wrote about it in an earlier article and had to send it back to Vortex.  I will offer my thoughts on how it stacks up against this group where appropriate.

Digging into the numbers a little more, a few things stand out:

  • In terms of weight, March, Leupold ER/T and SWFA S.S.HD are significantly lighter than the rest of the scopes here.
  • Japanese scopes (March, S.S.HD and Nightforce) have somewhat narrower fields of view than the Euro contingent.
  • If you look at the FOV numbers for the IOR, you’ll note they are different than those on IOR’s website.  The data on the website did not look right to me, so I measured it.
  • All scopes here have at least 3.5” of eye relief.  Leupold has the most eye relief variation with magnification.
  • I list two different prices for the Leupold ER/T since the version I am looking at has a Horus reticle that adds more than $500 to the price.  With a MilDot or TMR reticle, this Leupold costs a lot less.  March is available with and without illumination, hence two prices as well.
  • Something not mentioned in the table above: Leupold’s actual magnification range is 4.9-14.5x, which explains why it has the narrowest filed of view at low magnification in this group.  It also means that it has a rather low erector ratio of just below three times.
  • Conversely, Premier and March have the lowest magnification available (3x) and wider field of view at the lower end of the range than the other scopes here (I did look at the 3-12×56 version of the Hensoldt briefly, but the bulk of my testing was done with the 4-16×56 version).
  • March has the highest available magnification in this bunch: 24x.
  • S&B has the least amount of adjustment available.  I suggest using a 20MOA base with it (it is a good idea with any scope used for long range shooting, but it is particularly important with the S&B).
  • Hensoldt, S&B and Premier have the most adjustment per turn.  Leupold and S.S.HD the least.
  • As a general observation, I really prefer to have 10mrad or more adjustment per turn.  However, I am not sure how much money I am willing to pay for that feature alone.  Still, 10mrads takes my 338LM beyond 1200yards within one turn and that keeps things simple (it is also enough for 1000yards with some 308Win loads).  However, the range where I do most of my practice only goes out to 600yards, so 5 mils per turn is sufficient for that distance even with a 223Rem.
  • Two scopes in the table do not have reticle illumination: Leupold ER/T and SWFA S.S.HD.  The rest have illuminated reticles, for the most part with timers.

“Guys at The Range” Impressions
I had a few people of varying experience look at the scopes side by side and tell me what they think.  Most of the time they were looking at the scopes two a time, mounted on two tripods.  Here is a snapshot of Premier and S&B side by side:

It is not an optimal way of looking at scopes, but it does allow to transition from one to another quickly.  Since both of the tripods have picatinny rails on them (made by Samson Manufacturing), I was able to quickly switch scopes around without losing the zero established on the rifle.

Most of these guys really did not have a chance to look at the March 3-24×42 since I received it a bit later and did not have it for too long.  Also, depending on when I ran into them at the range, these guy saw different subsets of the scopes.

Tester A had a chance to look at Premier 3-15×50, IOR 3.5-18×50, USO SN-3 3.2-17×44, Nightforce F1 3.5-15×50 and Leupold 4.5-14×50.  He could not quite decide whether he liked Premier or IOR more, but for him one of these two definitely looked like a top choice.  He noticed that the IOR has a warm color cast and did not like it too much, but he liked how much detail he could see with it.  He thought the other three scopes were not in the same league as Premier and IOR.  Nightforce did not agree with him at all.  He had a hard time maintaining proper sight picture with it and thought that the image lacked vibrancy.  To his eyes Premier was a little better than the IOR, and USO was a little better than Leupold.  Generally, he has some interest in scopes of this type since he recently acquired a GAP-built rifle chambered for 338 Lapua.  Once I told him what all these cost, he liked the IOR even more.  He is somewhat new to scopes, so the Horus reticle in the Leupold got him more than a little confused.  He thought that Mil-Dot Gen-2 reticle in the Premier was a nice uncluttered design and he preferred it to the other reticles here.  With the Nightforce, he noted that at low magnification the reticle is very difficult to see.

Tester B was the range officer who looks so excited in the first picture of this article.  He thought that most of these scopes were great and they can all be used just fine.  He is a target shooter, so he liked thin reticles.  To his eye, the S&B with the fine center lines and crisp image was the best scope, closely followed by the Premier and USO.  Hensoldt, while very nice, did not have that visual pop for his eyes, but he liked the compactness of it.  With the IOR, he could not get over the thick reticle, but liked the image.  Leupold’s Horus reticle did not do anything for him and Nightforce looked dim compared to S&B and Premier.

Tester C was a guy who has looked at a lot of scopes with me over the years, so he knew what all of these were and how much they cost.  He thought that optically, Premier agreed best with his eyes, closely followed by the S&B.  At high magnification, the image quality between these two was very close to his eye.  However, he did not like the tunnel vision that the S&B has at low magnification.  With March and Hensoldt, he liked the detail in the image, but thought that it lacked some pop due to shallower depth of field.  He did note how flexible the eyerelief of the Hensoldt is.  Overall, he liked the image through the IOR and the depth of field.  However, the warm tint stood out to him and in bright light the image, and I quote: “looked too bright, almost so bright that it hurts my eyes”.  I suspect that is his reaction to a different color gamut.  With Leupold, he noticed rather strong CA, which bothered him.  On top of that, he simply could not get over how busy the Horus reticle is.  He found it distracting.  With Nightforce, while he liked the solidity of the adjustments, he thought the image looked dull and also noted that at low magnification the reticle tends to be hard to see.

Tester D only had a chance to look at Premier, S&B and Nightforce in any detail.  To be succinct, he thought that Nighforce is not in the same league while he would be happy to take S&B or Premier home with him (and he made a solid attempt to sneak one out forgetting that I know where he lives).  On a more serious note, he really liked the color saturation and depth of field on both S&B and Premier.  Nightforce looked bland to him.

Impressions by EventHorizon (owner of the 3-12×56 Hensoldt).
This gentleman stopped by a couple of times and put a lot of effort into looking at the scopes.  Unfortunately, the March FFP scope was not yet available, so he did not get a chance to look at it.  His evaluation was done during the daylight and primarily involved looking at the scopes side by side, mounted on a couple of tripods during the day.  However, a few of them he also played with while they were mounted on my rifles.  He and I disagree on a few points, but that mostly illustrates that we all have different eyes and different priorities.  He e-mailed his impressions to me, and I thought they were worth adding in their entirety with very minor editing to remove some personal details and a few typos.  The following italicized test is written by him:

Overall Impression
The Hensoldt I felt was the overall winner but the margin of victory is by no means huge or insurmountable by the second place Premier.  The Hensoldt is the easiest to use in regards to FOV, ease of attaining and maintaining sight picture and eye relief through the mag range.  While the Premier had the best turrets for firm clicks and ease of use, the Hensoldt’s were close enough for the difference to not be a game changer.  The functional use of the Hensoldt as a scope for target observation as well as for target interdiction should not be overlooked.  I know I can look through that scope for prolonged periods of time at challenging targets and not suffer eye strain or have to maintain an unreasonably still position.  The Premier, on the max magnification of 12x would not afford this level of comfort.  
Further, for non-bench shooting, it would be reasonable to assume that there would be some compromise in Natural Point of Aim.  With this in mind, the Hensoldt afforded the greatest level of off-center forgiveness.  I could move my head side to side and right up until the target (in the center of the sight picture) became obscured it remained in focus.  None of the other scopes could match this and only the Premier came close.  The S&B had a very low level of forgiveness and it was bested by the USO in fact. The Nightforce had about the same level of forgiveness as the S&B.  If USO solved their design issue of overcrowding the turret box I think Premier would have a serious run for their money.  The EREK knob was great, the glass was perfectly suited to task and their GAP reticle is great.  Build quality is well established with both makes as they were both tanks.

Glass
The USO had the widest of all the fields of view and it had the best ‘natural’ color representation.  I thought the depth of field was as good as the SB and the contrast and detail/resolution was excellent.  I felt no compromise with the USO at all.  Again, the Hensoldt won out over the Premier and the SB because it felt like I was looking through a pair of binoculars.  When focusing on the target I felt I could see in very clear details the surrounding terrain and could pick out movements of shrubs and debris in the wind with ease.  Everything seemed ‘bigger’ and so it stood out more and I could relax better.  While the others have better depth of field, they demanded more eye work I felt.  I want to be able to focus on body mechanics, on seeing movement around the target as indication of wind, not ‘work’ at the vision.  Hence even though the Hensoldt doesn’t have the depth of field of the others, it was the better scope for usability.  
However, the actual ‘pop’ of the view went to Premier and SB/USO equal and then Hensoldt.  Again, the divergence here is minimal.  This was judged by looking at the stones in the berms behind the target, when trying to keep my attention on the crosshairs and target, I felt the difference in peripheral vision was minimal and not easily distinguishable.
The Nightforce had good contrast and clarity but I felt it wasn’t as bright as the others.  When I went back from it to one of the others -Hensoldt, Premier etc, I had a visual ‘ahh, that’s better’ feel.  I did not like the view through the SWFA 10x42HD.  The sight picture felt tiny, like through a key hole to be honest.  I felt I had to strain my eyes even though the actual picture quality was good and the detail was there. I know that people like it for what you get in relation to the price but to be honest, I wouldn’t buy that scope.  I’d feel that I was never getting 100% from my shooting or my rifle because of the scope. Even with the crappy turrets, I’d prefer the IOR or Nightforce.

Turrets
Premier, Premier and Premier.  The size of the turret is great, the new turrets seem to not have the issue of jumping out of the full Mil marks. I felt you could turn and feel that turret change
with even the thickest of gloves but without ridiculous amounts of effort. The SB also has excellent turrets.  They all had good turrets with the exception of the IOR which I was not a fan of at all. Mushy, easily ran onto each other and didn’t feel anywhere near as well made and precise as the above.  I liked the Leupold but the turrets had half the travel and so the clicks were much wider and afforded a better feel as a result.  While I really liked the USO EREK turret with it’s wide click, I did not like the windage turret at all.  Hard to grab, to turn and frequently skipped because of the compromised grip due to the over-crowding.  It’s worth noting that the turrets on the SWFA 10x42HD were sharp! That thing grips, better than any of the others but if you’re going to be handling that turret under high speed conditions better wear gloves.

Reticles.
Premier’s Gen 2 Mil-Dot is pretty much a perfect reticle in the 3-15 mag range.  Very easy to work with, to use to measure objects and thin enough for any kind of precision work I’d say.  Even on the minimum mag level the reticle was usable but I’d not say I could easily make out the half-mil hashes.  The USO’s Gap reticle is also extremely nice and would be my second choice after the Premier with the S&B a very close third.  The Hensoldt’s is thick in comparison to all of them. I must admit that when I looked at the Hensoldt after looking at the others, I wished I had the Premier’s reticle in that scope.  However, I’d be interested in seeing how that reticle matched up to the others in poor light conditions and when the reticles are illuminated.  

Eye relief.
For me this is important. When I shoot I like to spend a long time doing it and easy eye relief is key I think.  The clear winner and by a real margin is Hensoldt.  I could go from minimum to maximum mag and not have to move my head.  The worst was Leupold, forget it!  After Hensoldt I’d say it would be Premier, USO/SB and then Nightforce with the IOR to follow although not that far behind.  With the Premier, I had to start shifting my head forward slightly once I started to get into double digits on the mag.  Also I noticed that maintaining sight picture became harder as well with less side to side forgiveness.  The Hensoldt remained forgiving.

Feel
It would have been nice to have mounted the scopes to see how they effected the handling of a rifle.  I thought that the Hensoldt made the right choice to leave some depth of field clarity on the table in return for field-friendly ergonomics and weight.  I think the Hensoldt does the least amount of damage to a rifle center of gravity and balance and so for anyone who wants or will have to do off-hand shooting, this is a serious design consideration.  When people scoff at  a half pound of weight difference they are thinking only about the hiking part of field shooting, not of holding the rifle without a rest.  The Premier, USO are just tanks.  I can’t really recall the size/weight of the IOR.  The SWFA was light and I thought pretty nimble too, but the sight picture was just too much of deal breaker for me to really consider it seriously. I can’t recall the Nightforce perfectly.

Value for Money
If money were an issue and I had to get one that maximized my value for money it would be Premier as the overall winner.  Having said that, for the extra couple hundred bucks the luxury and compactness afforded by the Hensoldt would be money very well spent. In the second hand market, there are Premier’s going for several hundred off and these have to be the best deals I’d say.   I thought the real surprise of the lot was US Optics.  Great scope and the stuff people say about the glass not being on par with the top players did not hold true on that scope.  I just wish it wasn’t a meter long.
With the “Guys at the Range” impressions out of the way.  Here is my take on the scopes.Mechanical Quality
As you would expect from scopes in this price range, mechanical quality is quite good.  They are all a little different, naturally, and in a couple of cases I ran into a hiccup or two.
Before I get into more details, I want to note that I do not make it a point to stress the scopes from a durability standpoint.  If they fail (or simply do something funky) in normal use, I report it, but I do not really have the facilities or access to sufficient quantities to do serious reliability testing.  I work out the knobs on each scope quite thoroughly and check that all controls work properly, but that is as far as it goes.
Now let’s talk about the hiccups.  None of the scopes here gave me any problems except for the IOR and the Leupold.  Both suffered somewhat cliche issues.
IOR 3.5-18×50 somehow sprouted a large fleck on the inside of the ocular lens.  It stubbornly sat near the edge of the field of view and annoyed me (a bit).  It did not interfere with the functioning of the scope: it still tracked just fine and the image quality, aside from that piece of debri stuck on the lens (you could see it move if you rotated the eyepiece focus ring), remained the same.  Interestingly, during one shooting session, I noted that windage adjustment was slightly off.  However, when I went back to check it, it worked fine: both accurate and repeatable.  Perhaps, that was a bad shooting day for me.
Leupold ER/T 4.5-14×50 came with a slightly canted reticle.  I did not see it right off hand until I started really exercising both the knobs and the reticle.  Since the scope came with a Horus reticle I spent some time shooting out to 600 yards (or thereabouts) with the reticle only.  When the time came to exercise the knobs, I noticed that the point of impact was different than when I was using the reticle.  I went back to 100yards and doublechecked it on a large piece of cardboard.  Lo and behold, the reticle is canted counter-clockwise a little.
None of the other scopes gave me any trouble whatsoever.  All of them tracked well enough and consistently enough for me to not find anything to complain about.  Recoil and repeated twisting of the knobs all over the place did not seem to have any perceptible effect on function.  Every scope spent some time on two rifles: DTA SRS chambered for 338 Lapua Mag and an AR-15.  Even the 338LM does not really have all that much kick, but it does have a muzzlebreak and this rifle has played a number on a few scopes in the past.  There is something about that funky recoil pulse which makes a difference.
All of the testing was done using a number of 30mm and 34mm Aadmounts which are very consistent, so sighting in was a breeze and I never ran out of adjustment due to initial sight-in.

As far as the knob feel goes, it is kinda personal and I expect different people to prefer different knobs.  I thought that March 3-24x42FFP had the best knobs in this group (in terms of feel) although by a small margin.  Generally, March has the best executed mechanical package I have seen on any scope to date.  It has a very nice combination of precision and comparatively low effort in a low and wide knob.  If you have to go beyond a full turn of the elevation turret (10 mrad), there is a secondary scale on the knob (in yellow).  ZeroStop is well designed and works as advertised.  Consistency and calibration of the clicks were flawless.

Premier Heritage 3-15×50 has stiffer adjustments than March, but not sufficiently stiff to get in the way.  This scope feels overbuilt in every way possible.  Knobs are large and offer very good purchase area.  I really liked the ability to reset them without having to deal with any hex wrenches.  This scope is available with both Single Turn (22 mrad per turn) and Double Turn (15mrad per turn) knobs.  The scope used in this article has the latter, while the one I used in an earlier article was the former.  DT turret seems a bit lighter, but if I were to buy one, I would probably go with a Single Turn version.  Both were very precise and tracked nicely.

With US Optics SN-3 3.2-17×44, I really liked the feel of the EREK elevation knob.  With 9 mrad, it has a touch less adjustment per turn than the March, but enough for my purposes.  The windage knob on the SN-3 I liked a bit less, but it worked.  The way I shoot I seldom mess with the windage knob: I tend to adjust for drop and hold for wind, so USO’s arrangement worked well for me.  Style-wise, EREK knob is low and wide which I like.  It is larger in diameter than the March’s turret and the clicks feel slightly wider-spaced.  They are a bit different going clockwise vs counterclockwise, but not enough to cause any trouble in actual usage.  The windage adjustment turret also had somewhat different click feel depending on the rotation direction.  More importantly to me, because the reticle illumination knob is so close (that is the covered turret in the picture below), using the windage knob was not very convenient.

Hensoldt knobs had slightly less positive feel than March, USO and Premier, but by a small margin.  They felt to me like there some sort of really thick grease inside the turret, which is not abnormal in mil-spec scopes.  it helps with waterproofing.  It took me just a touch longer to adjust to Hensoldt knobs, but I quickly developed confidence in them.  I wish that they had a zero-stop available, but it is not a necessity.  Then again, considering how much Hensoldt costs, I expect perfection or as close to it as is feasible.  I had a chance to look at two Hensoldt scopes for this review: 3-12×56 that someone else (a SnipersHide member who goes by EventHorison) brought to the range and the 4-16×56 that I used for the bulk of the test.  Knob feel was very similar between the two scopes.  The turrets on the Hensoldt are a bit smaller in diameter than I like, but still easy to grab and adjust.  The turret also has markings for two turns with the second turn numbers in yellow.  However, with 12 mrad per turn, I did not need to go into the second turn at any point in my tests.

To the best of my recolleciton, noone ever complained about Nightforce knobs and for a good reason.  These are the new “High Speed” knobs and I liked them quite a bit.  Nightforce adjustments were absolutely superb in terms of feel and repeatability, but I prefer somewhat larger diameter knobs of March, Premier et al (same comment as for Hensoldt).  ZeroStop is pretty easy to set up and use.

Still, IOR 3.5-18×50 has larger knobs than Nightforce, but clicks on the IOR were less distinct.  I have a lot of mileage with IOR scopes, so I am used to them.  However, it was certainly easier to skip a click with the IOR than with the other scopes here.  Interestingly, my (older) 3-18×42 IOR has somewhat more distinct clicks.  Perhaps, this is simply sample variation.  With this particular scope, similarly to the SN-3, windage adjustment knob had different (less crisp) click feel than elevation adjustment knob.  Still, tracking was excellent with the IOR as well.  This scope has those secondary aiming point rings on the turrets.  Honestly, I think it is a solution looking for a problem, but it does not get in the way, so I do not mind it.  ZeroStop seems to work fine.

Leupold and S.S.HD were the only scopes here with 5mrad adjustment per revolution.  It is easier to make good knobs with less adjustment since you physically have more space to work with.  Both of these scope had nice knobs, but the S.S.HD really stood out with superb feel and predictability.  While I would have liked to have more adjustment per revolution, I have to admit that how picky I am about these things is proportional to the price of the scope.  While I am not going to whine too much about 5 mrad per revolution on the $800 Super Sniper 10x42HD, I feel that a $2k Leupold ER/T (and Vortex Razor HD, I looked at earlier), should have 10 mrad per revolution o rmore.  Still, all of these are serviceable.  With the Leupold the knobs look just like the traditional tactical knobs Mark 4 scopes have had for years.  However, these have 0.1mrad clicks and the feel is better than I expected.

The knobs on the S.S. 10x42HD (as I have noted before) are absolutely rock solid and have superb feel.  If they had 10mrad per turn and were slightly larger in diameter, I would comfortably rank them just as good as March and Premier.  As is, I have enough mileage with them to know full well how consistent they are.

Daylight Image Quality
During the day all of these scope are quite good.  However, they are not priced the same and they do not perform the same either.
In terms of ability to see detail, it was hard to tell much difference between March, Hensoldt, S&B and Premier.  When used with the sunshade, Hensoldt was, perhaps, a touch better than the others, as it should be considering it has the largest objective lens of the bunch (56mm).  The fact that March with a measly 42mm objective lens was able to hang with this crowd is remarkable by itself.  Coupled with the fact that, if conditions allowed it, I could crank it up to 24x, gave it unmatched versatility.  Still, once the exit pupil gets down to 2mm or thereabouts (21x for the March), the sight picture gets a bit difficult to maintain.  On the other hand, for target shooting, I could crank up the magnification with the March and see the details other scopes in this group could not show me.  Admittedly, the situations where that is useful are not common, but I like having the option.  Once, I started looking at how good these scopes are at low magnification, the top group narrowed down to March, Hensoldt and Premier.  These three are virtually devoid of any unpleasant low magnification artefacts, like tunnel vision, which is present on the S&B between 4x and 5x.  Once you get above 5x, Premier and S&B offer very similar image quality with excellent resolution and superb sharpness.  March and Hensoldt seem to emphasize resolution a bit more, so the contrast on those two is not quite as good as on Premier and S&B, with Hensoldt being a touch more contrasty than the March.  All four scopes are sharp and clear right to the edges of the FOV. which is narrower on March than on the other scopes here.  Perhaps, that is the penalty for the large magnification range.  In terms of depth of field, that is pretty much the only (mild) knock on March and Hensoldt: depth of field is a bit shallow.  Both Premier and S&B have great depth perception and superb depth of field.  Here is a picture of S&B PMII 4-16×50, Hensoldt 4-16×56 and March 3-24×42 side by side:

One thing that immediately jumps out is how much longer the S&B is than Hensoldt and March.  Longer objective lens system is appreciably easier to build and optimize.  It is also directly responsible for the greater depth of field.  Both March and Hensoldt sacrifice some performance and force some design complexities onto themselves in order to keep the scopes compact (and to help with the zoom ration on the March).  To be more exact, combination of a large objective lens and a  short focal length makes for complicated optical designs.
In terms of color balance, to my eyes, Hensoldt had a slight blue-green tint to the image.  So did Premier and S&B, but it was a bit less pronounced than on the Hensoldt.  Colors through the March scope looked perfectly neutral to me.  It was pretty difficult to induce any sort of chromatic aberration (CA) in any of these four scopes.  March was the most resistant to CA, until you cranked the magnification all the way up, and even then it was very mild.  With Hensoldt, Premier and S&B, I could induce some lateral CA, but not the longitudinal type.  Bottom line, unless you are really looking for chromatic aberration like I was, you will not find any with these four scopes.  Color saturation was greater with S&B and Premier than with Hensoldt and March.  Greens and reds simply looked richer with them than they did to my naked eye.
IOR and US Optics scopes were also optically excellent, although half a step worse than March, Hensodlt, S&B and Premier.  USO SN-3 has the widest field of view in this bunch and the most natural color gamut (along with March).  It had two shortcomings that I noticed: tunnel vision at low magnification and stray light control.  The tunneling effect was apparent from 3.2x to 5.7x.  That is a bit more than I am willing to tolerate in this price range.  As far as stray light goes, there was slight white-out effect in the image in bright light and slight diffuse flair.  I thought that stray light suppression was not optimal and my suspicions were confirmed later when I did the low light testing.  Do not get me wrong, it was not bad, per se.  However, in this price range I expected better.
The new IOR 3.5-18×50, like quite a few IORs I have seen over the years, had a bit of a warm bias in terms of color accuracy.  However, aside from that, the image quality was virtually on par with the more expensive Euro scopes in the center of the field of view.  Edges were a touch soft, but the the center 80% of the FOV were superb.  Depth of Field was excellent (same for USO SN3).  With the IOR, similarly to Premier and S&B, there is almost a 3D-effect of a sort because of that depth of field.  The image has an almost pulpable texture, that I did not get with Hensoldt and March.  This is a difficult effect to describe, because in terms of the actual amount of detail, there was no difference.  However, those details jump out at me more with scopes that have better depth of field.  IOR 3.5-18×50 has very slight tunnel vision between 3.5x and 4x, which is much better than the 6-24×56 model I looked at earlier.  The 3.5-18×50 and 6-24×56 are the two newest models IOR has introduced and in terms of image quality, these are easily the best I have seen from IOR to date.  At lower magnifications, below 6x or so, there is some image distortion near the edges, but I did not find it particularly objectionable.
Nightforce, in terms of image quality, was a bit of an enigma to me.  It performs pretty well in the upper half of the magnification range, but has odd artefacts at lower magnifications.  Above 8x or so, the Nightforce resolved very well.  Not as well as March, Hensoldt et al, but resolution is very respectable.  Still, the image looked pretty dull: colors were muted and contrast was pretty low.  Oddly enough, depth of field was quite decent, but there was little pop to the image.  Bottom line, though, is that the details was there, but they did not pop out at first glance.  I had to look for them.  At lower magnification, however, flare started to become apparent as did the field curvature.  The center of the FOV remained pretty clean, but the outer third of the image had some distortion as well as some odd bluish haze creep in.  I have a fair amount of hands on time with other Nightforce scopes (primarily 5.5-25×50), and while the comparatively low contrast did not come as a surprise, I was surprised by the low magnification effects.
Optically, the weakest scope of the bunch was the Leupold, which should come as no surprise considering the price differences between different models.  This particular Leupold model retails for more than $2k, but that is largely due to the surcharge that comes with a Horus reticle.  Without it, the ER/T would run about $1600, which is not cheap, but still makes it the least expensive scope out of this bunch with a notable exception of the fixed power S.S.HD.  At 10x, S.S.HD showed me more detail than Leupold, but then again this is an easier scope to build.  Leupold had a reasonably contrasty image, and the resolution was adequate as well.  The most obvious image artefact was the chromatic aberration.  It was readily apparent above 10x or so and I saw fringes with two different colors.  That usually means that the objective lens system needs work.  Both lateral and longitudinal chromatic aberration were present, although the lateral type was more apparent.  Color accuracy was quite neutral and overall the image was clean and clear.  Flare seemed to be fairly well suppressed as well.
The S.S.HD is actually very well optimized with good resolution and contrast.  Optically, its only obvious flaw is some tunnel vision.  Among the people I have shown it to, some were bothered by it and some were not.  If you find yourself particularly sensitive to tunnel vision, this might not be the scope for you.  For everyone else, this is very good image quality for the money.

Low Light Image Quality
There are simply too many scopes here for me to look at simultaneously.  Low light testing is all about finding small artefacts and I can’t easily track these for nine scopes at the same time.  I had to subdivide them into a couple of groups and price seemed to be a worthwhile criterion.  First I took the more expensive scopes out for a nice bout of staring at resolution charts a bit after sunset: March, S&B, Hensoldt, Premier and US Optics.  Without any bright light sources to cause stray light problems, all of these performed quite well, although there were a couple of surprising discoveries.  I compared these all across the magnification range and the results clearly vary on whether exit pupil was a factor or not.  With exit pupil not a factor (i.e. at lower magnifications, below 7x or so), March showed the most detail, edging out Hensoldt, S&B and Premier by a very small margin and surpising the hell out of me in the process.  US Optics SN-3, while still very good, lagged a little behind these, which I found a bit surprising considering how wide USO’s Field of View is.  As I increased magnification, objective lens played a bigger role.  Here Hensoldt, edged ahead of the competition by a bit, starting from about 10x and upward, while between 7x and 10x, I could not tell much practical difference between Hensoldt, S&B and PH.  Above 10x, S&B and PH stayed neck in neck and a bit behind the Hensoldt.  At higher magnifications, compared to those three, March suffered a bit from having a smaller exit pupil, but still stayed comfortably better than the USO despite having a slightly smaller (42mm vs 44mm) objective lens.  Once a few point light sources were introduced, the pecking order did not change a whole lot, but I did make a few worthwhile observations.  At first I tested all of the scopes without sunshades, and then experimented with sunshades a bit (I did not technically have sunshades for all of these scopes, but I made same makeshift ones out of opaque black optical paper).  First of all, with bright light sources in the picture, US Optics SN-3 promptly fell out of contention with the other four scopes here.  It had noticeable flare and various stray light artefacts induced by light sources both inside and outside the Field of View.  March and S&B were the least effected.  Honestly, to my considerable surprise, I could not simulate any sort of a challenging lighting setup that would have an appreciable effect on the March.  In this case, smaller objective lens actually helps, but still the March performed better than I expected and, honestly, better than any scope I have seen to date.  S&B only had very weak flare present, which also makes sense, since the scope seems to have a rather long objective lens system.  That makes it easier to build and easier to baffle properly.  Premier had a touch more diffuse flare caused by light sources outside of the FOV.  Just enough to effect the ability to see detail ever so slightly, but perceptibly.  Under these conditions, S&B outresolved Premier although barely (I could only see the difference at higher magnifications, above 12x or so).  Hensoldt surprised me a little.  I expected that looking for flare would be interesting: it has a rather fast, i.e. low F/#, objective lens system (combination of comparatively short focal length and large objective diameter).  That makes Hensoldt shorter than most other scopes here, but it also makes it pretty difficult to build.  It also makes it more difficult to baffle against stray light coming in from just outside the field of view and that is exactly what I saw.  However, Hensoldt was remarkably immune to bright light sources within the image (very little veiling flare).  With an objective lens that big I went in with the expectation of finding some stray reflections and there were almost none.  It was a little susceptible to light coming in from wider angles, but a sunshade helps with that..  Now, before I cause any alarm here, it is better to say that it was comparatively susceptible, and next to pretty much any other scope out there you would be hard pressed to see any difference.  Keep in mind that these are truly state of the art optical sights.  It really does not get any better than this, and I am looking for small differences that I find interesting, but sane people (almost everyone else) do not care about.  Now, let’s get back to Hensoldt for a moment.  When Zeiss engineers decided to make this scope short and comparatively compact while housing a large 56mm objective lens, they pretty much elected to make things complicated for themselves from an optical design standpoint.  I suspect that this scope has either the most complicated or one of the most complicated objective lens systems of any scope in existence today as a direct consequence of trying to shoehorn a large objective lens into that compact of a chassis.  On top of that, this eyepiece on this scope has that phenomenally flexible eyerelief.  The downside is that in low light, when flare-inducing light sources are around, you can end up with your eye in a non-optimal spot where you see the image together with a lot of flare.  If you shift your eye position slightly to a more optimal spot, a lot fewer artefacts are present.  Bottom line, this is a fairly minor flaw of an otherwise excellent scope and if this is something that bothers you, make sure you buy a sunshade for it.  I experimented with my makeshift paper sunshade and found that it helped considerably.  Before I move on, here is a snapshot of a page from the manual that comes with the Hensoldt:

I do not know how accurate this schematic is, but I suspect it gives a reasonable idea of the construction of the Hensoldt.  I have seen complete scope designs that have fewer elements than the Hensoldt’s objective system alone.  This is a pretty complicated design and it is pulled off nicely.
Moving on to the remaining scopes, there were no surprises.  Between IOR, Leupold, Nightforce and S.S.HD, IOR was easily the better low light scope.  It was also better than USO owing to better flare suppression.  With all scopes set at 10x, S.S.HD held its own pretty well and outperformed both Leupold and Nightforce until it got sufficiently dark for its exit pupil to become the limiting factor.  Between, Leupold and Nightforce, low light performance was fairly close, with Nightforce edging the Leupold out by a little bit.  The IOR, was clearly the best one of the sub-$2300 crowd.  I spent a couple more sessions doing low light testing and side by side with the likes of Premier and the IOR looked almost as good.  It had a touch more flare, but no major low light artefacts to speak of.  It was not particularly effected by off-axis light sources, but a sunshade did help.

Usability, Features, Shooting Impressions, Reticles, etc
No matter how well a scope performs in any specific test, it all has to come together into a usable package.  Some scopes end up being more than the some of the individual components and some make all those features hard to put into use.  Here, I will mostly talk about these scopes one at a time and in no particular orderBefore, I get to it though, I would like to talk about reticles a little and about what I look for in a reticle.  Everyone looks for something different in a reticle and I should offer some details regarding what I consider important.  Most of all, I am looking for usability and balance.  With FFP scopes, reticle design is not straightforward.  Reticles that offer a fine aiming point at high magnification are often too thick at low magnification, and vice versa.  Oftentimes, for proper functioning at low magnification, reticle illumination is required (which most of these scopes have).  Personally, I want a reticle design that is functional both with and without illumination.  For my purposes, I found that ultra-fine reticles are not necessary, although I fully admit that they superb for certain applications.  Aside from these considerations, I find that I can get used to most reticles fairly comfortably with some practice.  I suspect that if I were a competitive shooter I would develop some more strong preferences, but as is, I think the in most cases the issue is overblown and is simply a matter of personal preference.Also, I think it is worthwhile to talk a little about mounts.  Generally, I do not review mounts.  I use them.  That having been said, improper mounting can wreak havoc on a scope’s performance, so for this test I wanted as much uniformity as possible.  Thankfully, Jon of Aadland Mounts stepped up and loaned me several of his one piece mounts for this article, on top of the one modified 35mm model I had before.  In retrospect, it likely saved me a lot of time and headache.  His mounts returned to zero every time, and I kept on moving them off the rifles continuously whenever I needed to set the scopes up on tripods.  The mounts themselves (as you can see in the pictures) are pretty beefy and look like a good visual fit with larger scopes.  With smaller scopes, like the March, they look a little big.  However, I am a big fan of “form follows function”, and these functioned so well, that I will be sending Jon a check for a couple of these that I want to keep for my personal use.  I have played with a number of mounting systems over the years and some worked great while others did not, so I tend to err on the side of caution.  This thing is so overbuilt that I have the utmost confidence in it.  I also like how the warranty is written.  Here is a quote from Aadland Engineering website:
Lifetime Warranty:
If you break your AADMOUNT, no matter how you did it (it must have been pretty spectacular), simply return it for a replacement.  You don’t need a receipt, you don’t need to be the original owner and the damage can be your fault.  It matters not, we’ll take care of you.
I generally do not do destructive testing of any gear, but I just might try to destroy one of these simply to find out what it would take.

March 3-24x42FFP
March is the only scope in this group that is not a production sample.  However, except for the reticle, it is identical to what the production units will look like.  The reticle is already being redesigned, but I have not yet seen the final version live.  I have seen the drawing of it and it looks like something I can comfortably get used to.  Also, I suspect that over time different reticle versions might become available.  As far as other aspects go, I found this scope to be superb.  I reviewed the SFP version in an earlier article (that one was 2.5-25×42) and thought that it had the most refined mechanical package of any scope I have seen to date.  Well, this 3-24x42FFP version sits on the same chassis, so all of my earlier comments hold.  Windage and elevation knobs are excellent.  ZeroStop execution is the best I have seen to date.  All controls are butter smooth and perfectly weighted: not too light and not too heavy.  This scope does not have that “I can pound nails with it” feel of Premier Heritage, but I’d be surprised if there are any durability issues.  I sure did not stumble onto any.  Eye relief was pretty long and fairly flexible.  Not as flexible as on the Hensoldt, but not bad at all.  It also did not change with magnification in any perceptible manner.  Even at high magnification the scope could focus all the way down to 10 yards.  Side focus knob did no exhibit any hysteresis I could detect.  Reticle illumination is pretty well sorted out with four different brightness levels available.  Just like with the SFP scopes, there are two illumination modules available with one being brighter than the other.  I had the brighter version and thought that it was pretty good even in low light.  Had I been buying one, I would probably lean toward the lower power version.  However, they are user replaceable and you can always get a spare.  The illumination control is integrated into the side-focus knob in the form of a large rubberized pushbutton that cycles between five states: OFF and four brightness levels.

Physically the scope is similar in size and weight to any number of of 2.5-10×40 scopes out there.  Except it is a far more flexible design that comfortably competes with larger scopes.  Here is how much smaller it is than Nightforce and USO:

Leupold ER/T 4.5-14×50
Honestly, in this crowd, Leupold was a bit overmatched.  It is a nice enough scope in its own right and using was a breeze, except for the canted reticle.  In a scope like this, equipped with a Horus reticle ($500+ on top of the regular price) I would likely set it up to use the reticle.  Honestly, I would probably like it more if instead of those tall tactical turrets, it had some sort of unobtrusive low profile knobs.  This was the first time I got really practice with a Horus reticle and I like the concept.  It takes a little practice to get used to the fine grid, but once you put in the time, it is pretty fast and accurate.  With the Horus H27 reticle in place, I think tall knobs are superfluous.  The scope itself is quite compact and makes a good match on an AR platform:

Magnification ring was smooth and easy to use.  However, eye relief varied considerably with magnification.  Sufficiently so, that I had to readjust my shooting position a little bit.  Side focus knob was smooth and well weighted.  However, it exhibited a little hysteresis (something I do not see much on good scopes these days, so perhaps it is a fluke).  The biggest problem for me, came back to the reticle however.  As much as I liked that Horus reticle when shooting a bit further out, I thought it was too thin for anything else.  It was very difficult to use in low light and at low magnifications it looked like moskito mesh.  I suspect that reticle illumination would have helped, but this scope does not have it.  I recall seeing a prototype Leupold scope at SHOT last year that had a Horus reticle with a superimposed illuminated dot.  It would have been a good fit to this scope.  All in all, I suspect that the Leupold would have done better had I been comparing it to something a little less high end than this bunch.

SWFA Super Sniper 10x42HD
I have spent a fair amount of time on this scope in the past, so I will be brief here.  It is an exceptionally robust design with excellent mechanical quality.  Somewhat unusually, parallax adjustment is in the rear of the scope where variable designs have the magnification ring.  I find that to be a fairly comfortable configuration, especially when practicing shooting as a lefty.  Eye relief is fairly flexible, and adjustments are always spot on.  It is a somewhat bare bones design compared to the other scopes here, and using it is also very straightforward.  There is something to be said about simplicity.

Nightforce NX F1 3.5-15×50
This scope, for me was a bit of a hit and miss.  Mechanically, it performed superbly.  However, I am not crazy about the whole eyepiece rotating when you change magnification.  On the other hand, I am not especially bothered by it either.  I could live with that.  Eye relief is pretty long, but not especially forgiving.  It did not change a whole lot with magnification.  The reticle really did not agree with me though.  I like to have fairly thick outer bars in FFP reticles.  At high magnification, they are out of the way, while at low magnification they move in toward the center and really help in low light.  With the MLR reticle, they are skeletonized, making them largely useless for my purposes.  Additionally, reticle illumination method is a bit clunky, especially considering the limitations of the reticle.  Having one preset illumination level that is difficult to adjust is a bit limiting.  On the other hand, since the illumination is engaged by simply pulling the side focus knob out until it clicks, keeps the turret box nice and streamlined.  Still, I much prefer the equally compact turret arrangement of the March that offers more flexibility of illumination control.

Premier Heritage 3-15×50
I have, quite literally, nothing bad to say about this scope.  It is built like a tank and it is heavy.  Aside from that, it is very well rounded design with every possible feature included.  Eye relief is fairly flexible and constant with magnification.  All controls work as advertised, although they are pretty stiff.  Reticle illumination is integrated into the side focus knob and allows for a range of illumination levels from very dim to fairly bright.  As far as the reticle goes, Mil-Dot Gen II is one of my favourite allround designs that allows both good precision and high visibility.  As a side note, I think that a lockable fast focus eyepiece is a nice touch.

US Optics SN-3 3.2-17×44
This scope surprised me in both good and bad ways.  In good lighting conditions, the image quality exceeded my expectations.  In low light, it was not quite as good, but still very decent.  The way the turret box is arranged, however, felt fairly uncomfrtable to me.  The scope I tested had T-Pal side focus.  While the side-focus itself worked quite well, the reticle illumination knob ended up sitting on the opposite side of the saddle right next to the windage adjustment knob.

That made both the windage adjustment and illumination knob more difficult to use.  Had I been in the market for a USO scope, I would likely have opted for a version with ERGO adjustable objective.  Aside from being cheaper by about $230, it allows for a more streamlined turret arrangement.  Do keep in mind that with the overall length of USO scopes, you would have to reach pretty far forward to adjust the ERGO objective.  GAP reticle is well-designed.  It is well matched to the magnification range of the scope.  However, reticle illuminaiton is too bright for low light use even on the lowest setting.

The collar that adjusts magnification, while adding some bulk to the eyepiece, was the easiest to use, offering a lot of purchase area without making the whole eyepiece rotate.  Eye relief changes a little bit with magnification, but I did not find it especially disturbing.  While the scope itself is pretty long and heavy, it is intended for substantial rifles and it did not look out of place on my DTA SRS:
IOR Valdada 3.5-18×50
I was very impressed by this scope, and a little disappointed by a piece of debris that got stuck to the ocular lens.  I hope that is an isolated incident, but time will tell as more of these make it out into the field.  Aside from that incident, everything on the scope worked well.  Eye relief was long and flexible as well as constant with magnification.  The new eyepiece is a serious improvement over the earlier design: it improves eyerelief without negatively effecting the field of view.  Similarly, I like the new digital reticle illumination control.  It is well executed and takes little space.  As far as reticle illumination control goes, I prefer the way it is done with buttons on IOR and March over the more traditional rotary dials on other scopes here.
The reticle is very familiar to me since I have been working with John Boyette’s modified MP8-A5 for some time.  It was originally designed for a scope that had no reticle illumination, so the center lines are fairly thick at 0.1mrad.  However, the aiming dot in the center of the reticle is floating, and there is enough open space around it to make sure very little of the target is obscured.S&B PMII 4-16×50
This scope has an enviable track record as being easily one of the best out there, and in terms of usage, I found very little to complain about aside from some tunnel vision at low magnification.  All controls were smooth and repeatable.   I liked the knob feel, although just like with Nightforce I would have preferred large diameter knobs for more leverage as well as more overall adjustment range.  P4F reticle is a fine allround design.  It is, perhaps, a touch thinner than I would have liked, but it worked well.  Reticle illumination is controlled with a separate knob that is placed separately on the maintube, right in front of the eyepiece.  I am not sure I like this arrangement too much, but it worked and did not get in the way.  I certainly prefer it to USO’s overcrowded turret box.  While the scope itself is pretty long, that extra turret does limit mounting option a little bit.  However, with a quality one-piece mount like the one I used, I did not run into any problems.  Here is a picture of a few scopes side by side that shows how different the mounting length is between various scopes.  From left to right: US Optics SN-3 3.2-17×44, Hensoldt 3-12×56, Premier Heritage 3-15×50, Nightforce NXS F1 3.5-15×50 and S&B PMII 4-16×50.

Eye relief on the S&B was sufficiently long for my applications and pretty flexible.  However, maintaining sight picture was easier with both of its prime competitors: Premier and Hensold.  On the other hand, PMII does have a somewhat slimmer eyepiece overall, and for some rifles that might make a difference.

Hensoldt 4-16×56
In many ways, this scope has the highest “usability” factor of this group and that is largely due to the superlative eyepiece design.  Eye relief flexibility on this scope is better than on any design I have seen to date (and in all fairness, I have had my hands on just about every decent scope out there at one time or another).   The scope is comparatively light and compact, while housing the largest objective lens of all the scopes here.  All controls are butter smooth and repeatable.  Reticle illumination goes from very dim (perfect for low light) to pretty bright.  The reticle itself is a simple MilDot with a choke-style rangefinder at the bottom.  I have a lot of experience with the Mil Dot, so it is easy for me to use. On balance, I somewhat prefer MilDot Gen II and MP8-A5, but I can use all of them in reasonable comfort.  The thickness of the MilDot in the Hensoldt lends itself well to excellent low light visibility and does not obscure too much of the target at high magnification.

Final Thoughts
I did not set out to determine which is the best scope here.  I was mostly out to verbalize how they differ.  However, I will invariably be asked which one(s) I, personally preferred and why.  Honestly, I think this should be modified to “which one I prefer for which application”.
As I have stated earlier, I can use any of these in pinch:

If price is an object (and for me it is), I suggest you take a close look at the 10x42HD Super Sniper.  It does not have all the features of the other scopes here, but it works and works well.
If you are willing to open up your wallet, in my mind it comes down to March 3-124x42FFP, Hensoldt 4-16×56 and Premier 3-15×50.  Between these three the choice comes down to the application and your personal preferences.
For example, I am putting together an accurate AR-15 chambered for 264LBC.  It will likely take me out to 1000 yards in reasonable comfort.  However, the rifle itself will be fairly trim and not too heavy, so I would like a moderately trim scope for it.  For this application, the March is the one to beat, and I am trying to figure out how I can afford it.
On the other hand, for my Desert Tactical, I am less concerned about how compact the scope is.  I expect to shoot it at pretty extended ranges (if at some point I’ll have the time to actually go practice rather than test scopes all the time) that can challenge even 338Lapua.  I might even look at higher magnification models for that, but both the Hensoldt and Premier will work fine for that.  15x or 16x magnification may not sound like much, but considering how good the optic quality is in these scopes, it is plenty.  More importantly, those large objective lenses allow for a respectable exit pupil even at maximum magnification.  As good as March is, once the light gets low, it simply does not have the exit pupil to hang with these scopes at high magnification.  I suppose that is the price to pay for compactness.
The choice between Hensoldt and Premier largely comes down to personal preference.  If you prefer greater depth of field, go with the Premier.  If you are more interested in ultra flexible eyerelief, go with the Hensoldt.  Also, if you really expect to spend most of your time shooting in low light, it is worth your while to go with the largest objective lens you can get your hand on, so Hensoldt moves to the front of the pack here is as well.
For me, if I could afford either Hensoldt or Premier, I would gleefully slap one on top of my Desert Tactical.  Until then, I have my old IOR 3-18x42FFP sitting on top of that rifle.
What if you really do not want to go with a fixed power scope like the Super Sniper and can not quite come up with the cash for a scope in the neighborhood of $3k?
For about $2k, there are a couple of options out there that I would seriously look at: IOR 3.5-18×50 and Vortex Razor 5-20×50.  Both are fairly new to the market, so I will keep track of how they hold up going forward.  Neither is exactly cheap, but they both offer a lot for the money and are worth considering.

Copyright ILya Koshkin 2010.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 Posted by at 10:03 am

  3 Responses to “High End Tactical Scopes: Part II”

  1. […] I found a good link that you might want to look at, the guy compares several top end scopes in a very detailed way. http://opticsthoughts.com/?page_id=129 […]