Review of Firefield 1-6x24mm front focal plane rifle scope with rings.
By Les (Jim) Fischer of opticsthoughts.com (BigJimFish on AR15.com and SnipersHide)
July 14, 2012
The Firefield 1-6×24 mounted to my 16″ AR:
This little Firefield was one of my highlights at Shot this year and that was before they dropped the price from $215 to $180. At Shot it looked good for the $215 price. Now it looks even better at $180.
Keeping this in mind, I was quite pleased when one of the Sellmark media coordinators sent me an e-mail telling me that not only was one available for review, but that it was, in fact, already in route. I will admit that this is a very pleasant aspect of reviewing low cost optics. Often, with high-priced glass, scopes are sent around the country from reviewer to reviewer and the logistics of this can be difficult since your goal is usually to have several scopes of similar price range in your possession at one time to do germane comparisons. With less expensive stuff, they just send you one when you are ready and you can typically keep it for a good while as well. It is not hard to line things up under those conditions.
Of course, selection of low cost optics to review is trickier: there are a lot to choose from, but most of them are not worth having, let alone buying. I do not care to spend my time and energy reviewing scopes that I know, having seen them at Shot, I will hate. If you ever wondered why most of my latest reviews have been, on balance, positive; it is because I picked stuff I liked to start with. If you want an old-fashioned Simon Cowell beatdown, you can check out the Shot show reports: there are no shortage of optics I dislike.
Getting back on point. I used a smaller lineup of scopes for this review than I have in the past. I did not think it was particularly useful to the reader to trot out a bunch of $1k + scopes and compare them to one that sells for less than $200. The one exception to this is that Japanese GRSC 1-6x which I left in because it is the only other 1-6x I have. Therefore, the lineup of scopes that will be participating in this review is:
Nikon M-223 1-4x
GRSC Korean-made 1-4x
GRSC Japanese-made 1-6x
Table of contents:
-Reticle description, explanation, and testing
-Comparative optical evaluation
-Exit pupil and eyebox discussion
-Mechanical testing and turret discussion
-Some notes on durability
-Summary and conclusion
Sellmark is the distribution company for the Firefield brand as well as Yukon, Pulsar, and Sight Mark. At Shot, the Sellmark booth displayed all these brands at the same booth probably because, from the standpoint of an FFL dealer, all are the same in that they are purchased from Sellmark. Sellmark does not seem to differ from this point of view in that there is a great deal of overlap in price point, presumed manufacturer, and even product line between the brands. For that reason, my comments on this scope are not really transferable to any other Sellmark-branded product. For the record, I think that LIS optics out of China is the maker of the Firefield 1-6×24 as well as many of their other products.
The Firefield comes with quite a few extras in the box. In addition to the scope you get a cleaning cloth, flip caps, rings, and a piece of paper with a few tech specs that calls itself a warranty card, but seems to be more of a stand in for a manual. Interestingly, it does not tell you not to shoot yourself or others. This is unusual since the sole purpose of most manuals these days seems to be to convey that rather obvious and therefore unnecessary information. Unfortunately, in my case, the rear scope cap seems to have split at some point in transit. This can be observed in the below image. Despite this split, it seems to be hanging on okay, though I am not sure if it will loosen up over time. The cause of this split appears to be that the rear cap was one size too small to start with: the front one is not nearly so stretched. Hopefully somebody at Sellmark will notice this sizing problem and order the next batch of rear scope caps the correct size.
As with the example I saw at Shot, the machining on the Firefield I was sent looks very good. I feared the example at Shot could have been a one-off CNC-machined prototype. This does not seem to be the case as the production version looks excellent. Often, on inexpensive scopes, a very thick and textured paint has been applied to obscure poor machining. That does not seem to be the case here. The machining looks very good and the appearance of the paint is more reminiscent of mid-range Japanese scopes than anything else. As for the tactile first impressions, the magnification ring moves smoothly and with proper force, though the diopter moves a bit too easily. All in all, the scope looks better and comes with better accessories than you would expect for the price.
Firefield 1-6×24 with box and all accessories:
I believe that it is a great virtue for an inexpensive scope to come with rings. This is especially true for scopes targeted at the AR market where you can be pretty sure they will be mounted to a 1913 rail. The simple fact is that including a set of extruded rings probably costs the maker a grand total of $5.00 but if you had to buy a mount yourself it would run you at least $50.00 for the same level system. All that extra packaging, advertising, tariffs, and shipping add up.
It should go without saying that the rings included with this Firefield are nothing like a Larue product. They are extruded, not CNC-machined, and they do not have inserts for the screws. That being said, they seem well-designed to achieve low cost while not failing. The aluminum is inexpensive, very soft, and therefore stretches a good deal as you tighten down the ring tops (I used 18 in/lbs.) However, they seem to be designed to accommodate this deformation as, under load, I observed just the right amount of space between the ring halves. Perhaps this plasticity also serves to somewhat mitigate the negative effects of rings that are not exactly round as extruded rings will never be all that close. The base of the rings are also well-designed. They use a big hex nut and cross bolt to tighten them to the rail. The cross bolt also serves to engage the rail slots and prevent sliding. I torqued the cross bolts to 30 in/lbs without failure. I would not suggest trying the 60 in/lbs some cross bolts suggest. I think the 30 is fine and at 60, I expect they would fail as the cross bolt is clearly not hardened. It is of note that the center line of the scope, when mounted in these rings, will be 1.12″ above the top of the rail and not the more common 1.5″. This fit me, but I have a very short distance between my cheek bone and my eye. I expect some long-faced British types might have a problem. All details aside, it is my judgment that I do not think these rings will fail under normal conditions and provided the user is careful during installation. That is really probably all you can look for from rings you paid practically nothing for, though I do wish they would have made the center line a little higher to accommodate a wider swath of shooters.
Reticle description, close quarters performance, explanation, and ranging:
Firefield reticle at 1x and 6x:
A few days ago a reader mentioned to me that he looked forward to reading my take on this Firefield reticle. Either he meant that or that he was dreading reading about it. Sarcasm is very hard to pick out in text. In either case, the subtext of the comment was that he was quite sure he was going to hear a great deal about the reticle from me. I found all of this encouraging as it means that I am unambiguously transmitting my message that reticles are not an afterthought, but rather one of the most important of all elements in scope design. Ranging, close quarters performance, and precision can be enhanced or ruined by reticle design choices.
The reticle in the Firefield is quite a familiar one. Not only is it a mil hash style reticle, but it is almost a dead ringer for the reticle in the S&B Short Dot. It differs slightly by not having the marks at .5 mil increments and by skeletonizing the 12 o’clock post, but the general idea is there and the style is unmistakable. Just as on the Short Dot, this reticle is wispy thin at 1x, features five mils of hashes in each direction, and skeletonizes the thick portions of the duplex. The most important difference between the two is the lack of daytime bright flash dot illumination in the Firefield. That does not turn out to be the huge failure I would have thought it to be back before I started CQB testing, though it is certainly not as effective as having the dot. It turns out that by copying S&B you get some of their advantages, even if you can’t hang with them in illumination technology.
The most important of these advantages is the CQB performance. While originally I thought that bulky is fast because you need to see the reticle, the more I have tested the more I have come to the opposite opinion. Seeing the target clearly is more important than seeing the reticle. I think this is partially because, due to the design of refracting scopes, the primary aim point is always in the middle of the field of view anyway. I think it is also because that aim point does not move around relative to the field of view whereas the target sure does. The target is just a great deal harder to get a fix on than the reticle. While it would certainly not be ideal to have a scope with a reticle so light that you can’t really pick it up, it seems to be much easier to error in the other direction. S&B probably figured this out ten or so years ago when they designed the Short Dot, though they never wrote an article to enlighten us about it. They probably should have since folks always complain about how light the reticle is and it is certainly not intuitively obvious that that is an advantage. The reasonably light skeletonized mil hash duplex in the Firefield combined with a nice flat field of view at 1x and an acceptable eyebox to yield a scope that performs in the top third for CQB speed: pretty good for a scope that is the least expensive I have ever tested.
All is not totally rosy with the Firefield reticle, though. Crank it up to 6x and you will notice a few things for which a little explanation is helpful. You will notice that the reticle lines look sort of like long fat hairy caterpillars. A little explanation of the glass etching process is in order here. Reticles are not etched by mechanical abrasion, but rather with acid. When etching with acid, a mask is first made with material removed in the places which are to correspond to the reticle. This mask is then applied to the glass and acid is allowed to eat the glass where the mask has been cut away. After washing the acid away, Titanium dioxide (also used as white pigment in paint) is applied to the etching and the whole thing buffed out. How fine a reticle can be is therefore limited by some combination of how small and precise the mask can be made, the characteristics of the glass / acid interaction, and, lastly, the yield percentage of good reticles you are willing to tolerate because the whole affair, like the process of manufacturing semiconductors, is subject to a great deal of unevenness. In a front focal plane scope, all of these limitations and interactions are literally magnified because the reticle is magnified as the power is dialed up. In a 1-6x scope the reticle, inconsistencies and all, will be magnified 6x. In a 1-8x it will be magnified 8x. Since acid eats in an uneven manner and tiny masks are hard to make, it is not hard to see how difficulties can arise. For these reasons, the reticle in the Firefield is thick, around 1.2moa, and has an appearance somewhat akin to a line drawn with a Sharpie that has bled a little. I have seen shades of this problem not just on this $180 scope, but also on ~$3000 March ffp scopes which have an 8x erector ratio. It is simply not easy to make reticles in high magnification ratio ffp scopes. All that being said, it is still difficult for a shooter to be precise with an optic that has a line thickness of 1.2moa.
The last thing to talk about concerning the reticle is its ranging capability. I was quite pleased to find, in my testing, that the mil sub-tensions in this reticle are the correct size. While this might seem basic and universal, many scopes have reticles that are not the size they purport to be. This one is sized correctly; a very helpful feature for ranging accurately. In the case of the Firefield, ranging, bullet drop, and windage hold will all be performed using the mil scale on the reticle. This is because, as you will learn later in this review, the adjustments are not 1/2moa as they claim to be. This is not an ideal situation in a mil type scope. Ranging with a mil scope always concedes speed at the outset because it requires calculation. What it lacks in brevity it seeks to make up in accuracy. Part of that accuracy is contingent on being able to dial the drop after finding the range. Holding over for drop is less accurate and it is easy for the shooter to get lost in all the similar looking dashes. This is especially true if multiple targets in the same area are to be engaged or if multiple shots are to be fired at the same target. Recoil between each shot can lead to you holding on the wrong dash. Since windage is usually held not dialed, it is also a disadvantage to be holding both windage and drop simultaneously since your aim point will be somewhere out where the scope has no markings and you will have to try to estimate your place from the markings to the side and above. Nitpicking aside, at the price range this Firefield retails at most scopes don’t have any type of ranging reticle anyway, so I think, faults and all, it is ahead of the game.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
The optics of the Firefield 1-6×24 are much like its physical appearance in that they are better than you would expect at their price point. I would like to point out a few challenging aspects of this scope’s design before I discuss its performance. It is very short compared to almost any other scope in my table, 1-6x as opposed to the more common 1-4x, and front focal plane. All of these factors compound the difficulty of scope design. Despite these factors, the Firefield performed well.
More specifically, the resolution of the Firefield was better than the Korean GRSC, though less impressive than the Nikon. Its field of view is virtually identical to the Nikon. This is a middle-of-the-road field of view in general, but when you are one of the least expensive scopes available, being middle-of-the-road is never a bad thing. Chromatic aberration was more challenging for the Firefield. It demonstrates an easily seen green fringing at the interface of light and dark objects in the field of view. This was more dramatic than with other optics tested, though not by a huge amount.
Most difficult for the Firefield was the handling of stray light. This poses a problem for all optics to varying degrees and in varying situations. Bright light positioned at 10 to 20 degrees off of the line of sight of the optic was most problematic for the Firefield. This is a lighting circumstance that most optics find difficult. It can be encountered by shooters facing in the direction of the sun in the morning or evening when the sun is low to the horizon. I was less patient in my testing and simply pointed the scope at the appropriate angle to the sun at the time of day that I was out. that is why there are clouds, sky, and treetops in the demonstration photos below. You will see in these photos that at 1x you can get some greenish light artifacts. At 6x, partial whiteout of the field of view is noted and the reticle gains a frosted appearance. Do not be deceived by the appearance of the 6x photo. The sun is not within the field of view of the scope but rather quite a few degrees outside of it. It is a reflection of the sun off of the inside of the scope that causes that appearance. These photos do a good job of illustrating the extent to which stray light can be a problem to the Firefield in the absolute worst of circumstances. As problematic as that is, it could be much worse. Total whiteouts are not unheard of for some scopes in difficult lighting conditions. Even in the worst situation I could create, the Firefield was still useable.
The extent of stray light handling problems in the Firefield 1-6×24 at different magnifications with the sun positioned 10-20 degrees offset from the point of aim:
Scope compilation photo with scopes set at high magnification and maximum illumination:
Exit Pupil and Eyebox Discussion:
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 the range through which your eye can move about and still get a good image as the “eyebox”. A generous enough exit pupil is therefore a necessary ingredient for a scope to have a comfortable eyebox. The correlation between exit pupil and the perceived forgiveness of the eyebox is not total just as the correlation between a forgiving eyebox and the speed of an optic is not overwhelming. Nevertheless, exit pupil is a necessary component of both these aspects of an optic’s performance.
The exit pupil of the Firefield measured out to be quite a bit larger than most. It is not surprising, therefore, that it had a comfortable eyebox in practice. Here are the values I have measured for exit pupils that I have personally tested on various scopes so far, in descending order of 1x exit pupil size:
Nikon M-223 1x, 16.7mm, 4x, 5.3mm
Firefield 1-6x ffp 1x, 16.2mm, 6x, 4.6mm
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 VX-6 1x, 10.7mm, 6x, 4.4mm
Leupold CQ/T 1x, 9mm 3x 4.86mm
Elcan Specter DR 1x, 8.0mm 4x, 7.4mm
1x illuminated compilation photo, all scopes set to maximum red illumination:
As you can see from the compilation photo, the Firefield does not have daytime bright illumination. Similarly, you can see that neither did the other scopes that I had as comparisons. They all appear to have unlit reticles. Because of this, I tacked on a couple of images taken for another review of the daytime bright Elcan Specter DR and Leupold VX-6 so that you can see what daytime bright illumination looks like through my camera. Daytime bright illumination is difficult for any conventional scope due to the way in which the illumination is reflected off the reticle. This is particularly difficult if the scope is first focal plane and has a fine reticle like the Firefield. The below photos are though the Firefield at night. Do not be put off by the bizarre distortion or fuzziness of the reticle. The reticle does not actually appear this way, but my camera is incapable of taking photos with so little light to work with.
Firefield 1-6×24 illumination at night, lowest setting:
As can be seen in these photos, the Firefield offers the user a choice of red or green illumination. In either case the whole of the reticle is illuminated rather than a single dot. This allows for ranging in low light. I am not really a fan of this dual scheme since it results in few brightness settings for each color. This is particularly pronounced on the Firefield. While it gets as bright as I expect it could given the limitations of a thin reticle and front focal plane, it doesn’t back off much on the lower settings. The lowest setting is probably only half as luminous as the highest and as a consequence, the illumination can be quite overwhelming in truly low light.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
I think I will start with the good news. The Firefield owned the power change test. This test is performed by shooting a group at the highest power and then, on an adjacent target, shooting another group at the lowest power. In theory both groups show the same respective aim points. This is especially true for front focal plain scopes. Unlike those of second focal plain, front focal plane scopes should demonstrate no point of aim shift whatsoever. In practice they sometimes do though. As you can see in the scan, the Firefield was perfect. I was surprised and pleased.
Firefield 1-6×24 power change test:
Now for the bad news, those big exposed turrets are mostly decorative. In the box test, the shooter aims at the same place when firing all shots, but moves the adjustments between groups such that a box is formed by the groups fired. This box should be square and the corners (i.e. the groups) should be the correct distance from each other as dictated by the scale of the scopes adjustments. For me, test this means that all of the groups should have the same position relative to the black boxes. They do not. While the box formed rectangular, indicating that the adjustments are functioning independently, and the final group does land on top of the first, indication that the scope returns to zero, the groups do not have the same position relative to the black boxes. The cause of this is that the adjustment magnitudes are not the 1/2 moa they claim. They are also not the same as each other. The windage is significantly less than 1/2 moa and the elevation is more than 1/2 moa. This comes down to a meaning of approximately 1/2 moa for the adjustment magnitude. This is fine for zeroing a scope, but not for using the adjustments to compensate for drop and windage. I feel compelled to note here that neither the scope nor myself is responsible for the obesity of these groups. The latest brick of Fed 719 ammo I have been using is garbage. These were actually the best targets I could come up with. After shooting these with the Firefield, I also strapped on my 14x Zeiss just to be sure that it was not the scope. Things did not improve. Only when I switched ammo did things get better. Bad Federal – no soup for you.
Firefield 1-6×24 box test:
Before we leave the adjustments section, I would like to talk a little about the size, feel, and construction. Usually I do not take apart the adjustment knobs, but the elevation knob was loose on my scope when it arrived. It turned out that it was not the three zero-adjust screws that were loose, but rather a second set of three below. The knob is designed something like a Russian nesting doll. This is perhaps to facilitate the use of different possible knob styles with the some core mechanism. Though the knobs chosen look handsome, I would have preferred them to go with smaller covered ones. This is especially true since the adjustments are not the right magnitude and therefore not fit for use compensating for windage and drop. Zeroing-only adjustments, though not ideal when paired with a mil hash reticle, aren’t the end of the world; but I wouldn’t parade them around quite so prominently. Lastly, you might want to put an index mark on the saddle so the user will have something to line up the zero mark on the knob with.
Firefield adjustment knob construction:
Some Notes on Durability:
As most of my readers know, I don’t do durability testing. The reason for this is cost. The way I figure it, to truly know if a scope will hold zero or not you have to expose it to thousands of cycles of recoil. Unless you have a custom-built machine like the one in Leopold’s lab in Beaverton, that would involve a great deal of expensive ammo as well as a lot of wear on a firearm. Given that I do most of my mechanical testing using a .22lr bolt gun to save money, you can guess my opinion on all this cost.
On this scope review, I had an unusual circumstance allowing me to accomplish some recoil resistance testing without incurring unpleasant financial bruises. I was not the only one testing one of these scopes. In a land far, far away; a friend of mine had a second scope that he was playing with… with his full auto. What he found was that after 80 .308 rounds followed and 200 .223 rounds at full auto, his diopter doesn’t seem to be working quite right. Now it seems that you can be focused at 6x or 1x, but not both at the same time. I expect this means that one of the locking collars on a lens loosened up, though he also concedes that it is possible that he simply did not notice the diopter problem before. Either way, I think it is probably ultimately a quality control problem rather than a design problem. It just seems to me more like a looseness than a brokenness, so I think is likely that few scopes will be so effected. Either that or Sellmark is crazy, because they are offering a lifetime warranty.
In addition to eschewing recoil testing, I have also refrained from dunking the scopes in water or dragging them behind automobiles. I suspect that you can guess why I don’t drag them behind my truck, but I really never had a good reason for the other except that I didn’t expect that I would have any failures anyway. That is not really a good reason.
With that in mind I set out to deep six the Firefield, but before I did the deed I thought it might be wise to make sure it was waterproof. The Firefield has a very specific and impressive sounding line in their literature about waterproofing. It says that the Firefield is IPX4 waterproof. That sounds like some special grade of waterproofing. Like maybe it is even resistant to the water that somehow gets through the Goretex in my waterproof boots. That must be special water and perhaps this scope is immune to even such assaults. That is not what IPX4 waterproof means. It has a very specific meaning and that is, “Water splashing against the enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effect.” Perhaps this is a degree of waterproof in the technical sense, but in the common vernacular it is not. In the common vernacular ‘waterproof’ means IPX7 or 8; immersion proof to varying depths. So, I didn’t dunk the scope, but I did learn all about ingress protection ratings.
Summary and Conclusion:
If you were expecting a totally clean bill of health for this scope and are now sitting here disappointed, I am sorry to disappoint you. Furthermore, I am not going to insult you by telling you that your expectations were totally unreasonable. A $180 scope is never going to match up with a $2,000 Elcan. Furthermore, the Elcan didn’t get a totally clean bill of health anyway. What you have with this scope is an optic that, for $180, manages to pack in a large 1-6x power range, compact size, and better-than-cost optical performance. It also far exceeds expectations in close quarters use. The only major downside may be durability, but this is somewhat offset by a non-transferable lifetime warranty to the original purchaser. While I am still not totally thrilled with the idea of budget optics, I think this Firefield represents a good value at $180: it looks like its worth twice that.
Here is your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Large 1-6x power range
Better than cost clarity
Significantly better than cost close quarters speed
Reticle is the correct size and capable of ranging using the mil system
Comes with acceptable rings
Comes with protective flip caps
Lifetime warranty to the original owner
Adjustments are not the correct magnitude, exposed and a bit large, and have no index line for the zero
Reticle is too thick at 6x and looks uneven rather than crisp at the edges
The illumination is not daytime bright and also does not have low enough settings for use in very low light
Eyepiece cap is to small and therefore came broken
May have less than ideal QC