Review of the Razor HD 1-4x scope from Vortex
By Les (Jim) Fischer (BigJimFish on AR15.com and Snipershide)
March 27, 2011
Today’s review is the Vortex Razor HD 1-4x. If memory serves, this scope debuted at the 2010 Shot show and released near the end of that same year. At a street price of $1200, the Razor sits at the high end of the 1-4x price structure as well as the high end of the Vortex product line. With six scopes on hand today, we should get a pretty good idea of how it stacks up and if its worth dropping a stack of cash on one.
Here is the Razor mounted on my 16″ AR:
Here is the lineup of scopes that were used as references for the Razor this review. From left to right: Zeiss conquest 4.5-14x44mm, Leupold CQ/T, Vortex Viper PST 1-4x, Vortex Razor HD 1-4x, GRSC Korean-made 1-4x (mine was a prototype), GRSC Japanese-made 1-6x Prototype.
Table of contents:
-Reticle description, explanation, and testing
-Comparative optical evaluation
-Exit pupil and eye box discussion
-Illumination subjective and comparative evaluation
-Mechanical testing and turret discussion
Background: (The majority of this information was taken from an ArrowTrade article posted in the vortex industry forum by Sam.) Vortex is a family business in the truest sense of the term. It was founded by Dan Hamilton as a result of the optics experience and frustration he gained operating a Wild Birds Unlimited franchise and is now run by him and several of his sons. As many small business owners have found out, it is often necessary to do it yourself if you want it done right. This was the principle behind the founding of Vortex. Dan was unsatisfied with the optics options available to him to sell at his Wild Birds Unlimited store and, after unsuccessfully trying to enact change in the industry from the outside, decided to wade in himself. Vortex optics originally made optics of primary interest to birdwatchers, such as binoculars and spotting scopes. However, they have continued to expand their product line and now also produce hunting and tactical scopes of interest to the ARF community. Though Vortex does not currently have manufacturing facilities, they do have facilities for designing and repairing their optics stateside. This allows them to offer far wider price range of optics than most companies because their optics are produced in several different countries. All of their optics, regardless of price, come with the best warranty in the business. Unless you are truly new to the world of optics you have doubtless heard many stories from individuals duly impressed with the warranty service Vortex offers.
Physical Description: The Razor is a refined looking piece of kit. Precision machining and attention to detail are evident throughout the hands-on inspection. The turrets, variable rheostat, power ring, and euro-style diopter all turn smoothly and with the amount of resistance you would expect. Similarly, the clicks are clean and tactile. Little features, such as fiber optic indicator bars, a threaded honeycomb sunshade, and flip-up protective caps, are unexpected bonuses. The overall impression I get when inspecting the scope is one of quality. I applaud their decision to go with a slightly nickel-tinted off-black color instead of the normal black. This scope looks very nice.
Reticle (refer to the pic below while reading the description): A well designed reticle is the most important and also most overlooked feature of a rifle scope. The mission of the 1-(n) power class of scopes is to offer the highest first-shot-hit probability possible out to the full range of the 5.56mm cartridge while also being as close as possible to the speed of a red dot at close quarters. This is not easy to do. To really be good at this, a reticle must be able to range and compensate for drop without the use of calculations. The reticle must also have its elements arranged in such a way that it is visible and fast when used at 1x by an operator who is in motion. The Razor HD comes in two reticles. The CQMR-1 reticle is a minimalist design that really has no ranging or bullet drop functionality, but may prove popular with the 3-gun crowd who generally prefer such design. I will be reviewing the second reticle offering, known as the EBR-556. As the name suggests, this reticle was designed for use with the 5.56mm cartridge. Interestingly, Vortex has gone with the M193 instead of the M855 (although really, in practice, the sub-tensions are good enough to use with either). For ranging Vortex uses the common Acog-styled shoulder bracketing ladder style that many are familiar with and which has become a rather well accepted standard at this point. Variations on this theme are now evident in most of the rapid ranging style scopes on the market. Vortex has further enhanced their reticle with the addition of windage bars for 500 yards onward. 300 and 400 yard windage features are discussed in the manual, but evidently didn’t work out well with the CQB and close-ranging circles in the final design specs of the scope as the features in the reticle pointed to with those references are not where they should be for windage purposes and, furthermore, could not be. Speaking of the CQB and close-ranging features, a broken set of concentric circles fulfills the 19″ shoulder bracket ranging function at close range as well as serving as the primary close quarters combat rapid aiming feature. As I always do, I tested how true to the specs the reticle actually is in practice and found it to be spot on with the exception of the 300 and 400 yard windages (which aren’t wrong so much as clearly the design was recently changed and the manual forgotten.) I found this refreshing as most often reticles are not the size in practice that they purport to be.
An image of the Vortex EBR-556 reticle at 4x and the ranging target made to test the accuracy of the reticle elements:
In practice, I have found the vortex reticle to be excellent at mid- to long-range. It is generally fine and precise; making aiming easy at distance. It also incorporates a windage guide which I think is helpful when making estimates. The numbers Vortex uses are also very similar to what I have calculated myself as well as those seen from reputable sources, so I have confidence in them. At close quarters though, all those thin elements are not as fast as they could be and the illumination, though helpful, is not enough. I very often lost this reticle when scanning and came to the conclusion that it is not my pick reticle for close quarters. Even as I now sit at my computer looking at pictures through the scope, it is sometimes hard to pick out just where the aimpoint of the vortex reticle is at 1x. While certainly not the worst CQB reticle I have seen, the EBR-556 is much better suited for midrange shooting than for close quarters use.
An image of the Vortex EBR-556 reticle at 1x and the ranging target made to test the accuracy of the reticle elements. Note how light and difficult it is to see:
Comparative Optical Evaluation: It is often said regarding optics that you get what you pay for. I think that with regards to clarity, this is probably not a bad axiom. The Razor is an expensive scope and it performs like one. In my lineup of scopes it proved to be clearer than the Leupold CQT, Vortex Viper PST, and the GRSC 1-4x. It also appeared clearer than the GRSC 1-6x at 1x, though at 4x it seemed like pretty much a toss-up. You very much get what you expect to get with this scope in regards to optical clarity. I also did not notice any problematic optical aberrations on the Razor. The chromatic aberration was low and I didn’t notice any fisheye or curvature of field effect. This brings me to a discussion of field of view (FOV). The easiest way to eliminate a fisheye look in the scope is to simply limit your field of view. The Japanese are well known in optical circles for doing this. When stacked up against comparable European optics, they often have 10% less FOV. Now on a high-powered sniper scope, this is really inexcusable since often at the ranges you are looking to, you really can only see anything through the scope. A little blurriness or distortion on the edges of the image is better than not being able to see that part of the image at all. However, we are looking at a 1-4x that is designed to be used by an operator in motion. Often, blurriness or distortion near the edge of the image can make it difficult for the user to seamlessly merge the images that he is getting from both eyes. For example, many users report that the Leupold CQ/T feels like looking through a straw to them. Given that its FOV is clearly the largest in this roundup, another factor must be at play. Unlike most other scopes in this lineup, the CQ/T does show some noticeable curvature of field near the edges. This occurs in parts of the image the other scopes don’t even show. That blurriness causes significant trouble for some users. The moral of the story is that a flat clear field of view at 1x is probably more important than a large one since you really have your off eye to handle the peripheral vision. Please pay particular attention to the soccer goal in the 1x photo for a field of view comparison. In the 4x photo, the fence on the right side and far tree on the left are good benchmarks. All of these photos were taken in relatively low light (evening) to enhance optical differences in the scopes. The target is 50-yards away and is calibrated to the GRSC and EBR-556 reticles at that range. Scopes were not mounted on a rifle, which is why the soccer players don’t look worried.
Scope compilation photo with scopes set at 1x:
Scope compilation photo with scopes set at 4x (CQT is at 3x):
Exit Pupil and Eyebox Discussion: First, lets discuss the exit pupil. The exit pupil is the size of the disc of light at the point at which it is focused for your eye. Assuming you are using this scope for close quarters work and you are moving about, your head will not be completely stationary regardless of how good your cheek weld is. A larger exit pupil will allow you to keep view of the object through the scope despite your movement, though it is notable that due to parallax error the reticle will not be exactly where it should be when your head is far off center. People refer to range through which your eye can move about and still get a good image as the “eyebox”. Obviously, exit pupil is a very important specification on 1-(n) power scopes. Mathematically, the largest an exit pupil can be is the diameter of the objective lens / the magnification. I have noticed a trend for scope manufactures and optics websites to simply list the results of this mathematical formula as their exit pupil. Roughly half of the scopes in the table have this and dollars to donuts, it is incorrect on every one of them. For its part Vortex does not list an exit pupil in any of its documentation though several third party websites to have it incorrectly listed as 24mm. Exit pupil can be roughly tested by placing a brightly illuminated object at some distance from the optic and measuring the disc of light transmitted through the scope at its smallest point. Below is a photo of my measurement setup.
Exit pupil measurement set up:
What I found measuring exit pupil corresponded well to my experiences testing the scopes by bobbing my head around a bit. These hands-on experiences did not correspond at all to manufacturers reported values. I am somewhat left with a quandary as I have only been able to take measurements of the exit pupil of scopes that I have and these measurements are far from precise. I will have to decide whether to replace the values in the table at the front with my better measured numbers or leave the manufacturers’ reported numbers. In either case, be aware that numbers in the table at the front that look too good to be true probably are. Here are the numbers I measured for the scopes in today’s lineup, in order of 1x exit pupil size:
Viper PST 1x, 16mm 4x, 6.4mm
Razor HD 1x ,13.2mm 4x, 6.5mm
GRSC K 1x, 13.1mm 4x, 6.7mm
GRSCJ 1x, 11.2mm 6x, 4.6mm
Leupold CQ/T 1x, 9mm 3x 4.86mm
Illumination Subjective and Comparative Evaluation: If the Razor HD has a weakness, it is illumination. At 4x it finishes in the middle of the pack, but at 1x it is the dimmest of the bunch. This is not surprising since it has a couple factors squarely against it. First off, it is a front focal plane scope. With this design, the reticle is set further forward in the body and the illumination has more pieces of glass to travel through. More importantly, though, the reticle stays the same size relative to the target at all magnifications. This means that it appears really small to the user at 1x. This small profile is just hard to illuminate sufficiently. Once you take into account the Razors fine reticle elements, it is not surprising that it is very difficult to see any illumination on a bright day at 1x. The below photo is a compilation of all the scopes in the lineup with fresh batteries at maximum illumination when set to 1x on a bright Ohio Spring day. It is difficult to see the Razor’s fine reticle against the fence backdrop and impossible to tell it is illuminated.
1x illuminated compilation photo:
The illumination woes did not end for the Razor there. Whilst doing the power switch test on an indoor range, I utilized the illumination to attempt to see the target better. What you see in the photo below is that in this situation you get a lot of internal reflection of the illumination within the scope, resulting in a red haze. Despite this, the illumination was still really too dim to light up the very fine reticle enough for my taste given the light-colored background. Though I shot the CQB targets illuminated, I opted against illumination for the more precise power change test target.
Indoor range max illumination at 1x:
It is also notable that the illumination momentarily blinks off during recoil even with a .22lr cartridge. This was despite the battery cap being well tightened using a screwdriver. A screwdriver is necessary to change the battery in this scope unless you have vice grips for hands. All in all, the illumination was not a strong point of the Razor.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion: Those who have read my reviews know by now that few scopes pass unscathed through the adjustment and power change testing. Though most folks assume that their 1/2 MOA or 1/4 MOA adjustments are accurate, they are sorely mistaken. That is not the case with the Razor. The adjustments are spot on. They are independent, accurate, and it returns to zero fine. Furthermore, there was no noticeable shift in point of aim when the power was adjusted between 1x and 4x. I believe that this is the first scope to score a perfect on mechanicals. This is especially notable given the fact that the barrel is starting to break-in nicely on the Spike’s .22lr upper that I use for this testing. The tighter groups allow me much more precision in my measurements.
Vortex Razor box test:
Vortex Razor power change test:
Though the adjustments are mechanically perfect, I am still not completely thrilled with them. As you can see from the photographs, the Razor sports giant, uncapped, weighty, 1/4 MOA sniper turrets with hex wrench-requiring adjustable zero. This scope weights in on the heavier side of the 1-4x bunch at 20.2oz and sports a reticle that is effective for bullet drop and ranging purposes. I simply do not see a need for these giant, heavy, sniper-style turrets. I would have much preferred a lower profile capped unit. I also find the zero adjustment that requires the use of three set screws cumbersome and slow to operate.
Summary: The Vortex Razor HD 1-4x is a scope with few surprises. It has excellent fit, finish, and feel. Its adjustments are accurate, it switches power without a point of aim change, and it has excellent optical clarity. Few scopes that I have tested, and I suspect few scopes overall, are mechanically or optically its equal. Where the scope falters a bit is with regards to illumination that is insufficient, glares a bit, and blinks on recoil. Users might also find that on 1x the fine lines and FFP nature of the EBR-556 reticle make it slower than many similar scopes. At the $1000 dollar price point, it is difficult to say whether any scope is the “best” scope. Individuals’ needs and desires vary greatly and there is no shortage of scopes to cater to those individual whims. The Razor HD is a generally solid performer that will certainly find folks whose needs it well aligns with.
For those of you looking for the simple pro and con list, here you go:
Optical clarity is excellent
Optics show low chromatic aberration and curvature of field
Fit and finish are excellent
Adjustments are accurate
Reticle is accurate
Power change does not cause POI shift
Reticle ranges quickly and accurately and compensates for drop and windage
Scope comes with nice extras such as flip up caps and a very nice screw on honeycomb sun shade
Best warranty in the business
Illumination is insufficient, blinks on recoil, and can suffer internal reflection.
Reticle is difficult to see and slower than many competing designs at 1x
On the heavier side for 1-4x designs
On the more expensive end for 1-4x designs
Field of view is on the small side for 1-4x designs