Originally published in April of 2007.
Earlier this year I had a thread where I promised to compare a few scopes in 2007 and post my impressions.
This is a first installment in this series so to speak.
Bushnell Elite 4200 6-24×40 with AO and MilDot reticle
Nikon Monarch 5.5-16.5×44 with AO and BDC reticle
This is not entirely an apples-to-apples comparison since I think these two scopes should appeal to slightly different users. However, these are the two I have and in terms of magnification range they start at almost the same low end. They are also priced similarly enough although the Nikon has, I think, been discontinued. The Elite 4200 is made in<st1:country-region>
The Elite 4200 is the scope that has been sitting on my Savage 22-250 varminter for a while, so I am pretty well familiar with it. My primary motivation behind buying the Monarch was to play with a BDC reticle, but it seemed like a good opportunity to look at the glass in a little more detail.
In terms of physical dimensions, Monarch looks quite petite next to the Elite 4200. It would probably be more fair to compare Elite 4200 4-16×40 since it is comparable in weight and size to the Monarch, but I do not have that particular scope here.
I first spent some time just looking at the glass in both well lit and lowlight conditions. They were no major surprises. Both scopes are very good, and for the money, just excellent. In terms of light transmission, I suspect they are about the same (I did not do an exact measurement, but I did take them to work and used one of the sensors I work with to compare. I aimed both scopes at a flat uniform light source, completely filling the field of view and used a multi-megapixel CMOS imager positioned at the focal point to record the total amount of light transmitted and also to figure out the power density, since I can look at individual pixels (to forewarn further questions, by using a sensor that is larger than the exit pupil, knowing the exact size of the object in the field of view and knowing the exact light output of lightbox, I can calibrate out the objective lens differences). Now, this is done with a white light source with a color temperature of 3200K so this is a very limited evaluation and really only gives a cumulative broadband light transmission comparison. Using a color sensor and knowing the exact quantum efficiency curves I could calculate the spectral response, but, quite frankly, I do not have the time to do that.
Some day if I do not have to work for a living, I’ll go ahead and set up a laboratory to do independent scope and binocular testing. At this time, I am not quite willing (nor able) to drop the money to buy all the equipment needed. I do not like to use my work laboratory for that.
Bottom line is that the light transmission on both scopes is sufficiently close to be absolutely inconsequential.
In terms of resolvable detail, they are also very close, with Elite 4200 being a little better (yes, I did set them on the same magnification). I looked at resolution at 10x and 16x.
Interestingly, at almost all magnifications Elite 4200 seemed to have a wider field of view, until magnification dropped to below 8x, where, I think, Elite 4200 has some vignetting. Monarch seemed to have very little if any vignetting all the way down to 5.5x.
In low light, both scopes performed well and I can’t say that one was noticeably better than the other. Monarch was a little more sensitive to off-axis light sources in front of the scope making a more noticeable ghost image. Nothing too objectionable though.
Bright light source behind me and to the side had about the same effect on both scopes: very significant. For this application, I strongly suggest something along the lines of Dvorak Soft-Eye. In all fairness, these are difficult conditions for any scope, no matter the price.
I mounted both scopes into Burris Signature Zee rings and set them up for my Savage varminter. While these rings do not return to point of aim perfectly when taken of and reattached, they are close enough for my needs.
I spent most of Saturday over at the shooting range breaking in the barrel on my new 6.5Grendel AR-15 and while I was at it I fired somewhere along the lines of 150 rounds through the Savage at paper targets set up at 100 yards and steel gongs at 200, 300, 400, 500 and 600 yards. It was a pretty windy day, so hitting something at 500 and 600 yards was not straightforward, but great fun. Both scopes tracked well. I can’t say that there was any difference there. While I did not abuse them, the adjustments worked flawlessly for both. Nikon”s clicks were a little more positive and more audible. Also, Nikon has 1/4″ clicks and Elite 4200 has 1/8″ clicks. I have to say that for any use I might have for a scope, I much prefer 1/4″ clicks.
Both scopes passed the box test with flying colors.
Now for the BDC reticle: in a nutshell, it is a good reticle, but I absolutely did not like it. I think I am too used to MilDot based reticles. Using a circle to aim without a defined aiming point was very unnatural for me. If there was a tiny dot in the middle of those circles, I would be much more comfortable. Then there is the general beef that I have with most trajectory compensating reticles. Once you set them up and match with your rifle and cartridge, they work at only one magnification. Since the spacing between hash marks (or circles in this case) is not constant, it is really difficult to use when you are at any other magnification. I think that reticles like this are only truly useable in FFP scopes. With MilDot based reticles (I have considerable experience with regular MilDot and MP-8 reticles), the spacing between dots or hashmarks is one mil at a particular magnification (for SFP scopes). If I am at a different magnification I can still very easily figure out the dimensions of the reticle. The Elite 4200’s MilDot reticle is calibrated at 12x. At 24x, the dot spacing is half of a mil, and at 6x it is two mils, and so on. That is something I can very comfortably keep in my head. BDC (and competing reticles such as BallisticPlex, PrecisionPlex, TDS, etc) are far more limiting. In that regard Pride and Fowler’s Rapid Reticle is a much better way to go since it is mounted in a FFP scope.
Another comment is that the BDC reticle’s thin lines still seemed fairly thick to me. A bit thicker in fact than I would want on a varminter. However, it does make for a pretty quick aiming and would be much more suitable for a predator rifle, perhaps.
All in all, both scopes are pretty good and I can’t really announce the winner, since to me it seemed like they are designed for different purposes. Than there are the personal biases: I would have much preferred the Monarch with a MilDot reticle.
The bad part is that I had my 2-12×32 IOR mounted on the 6.5 Grendel at the range. As good as the Monarch and Elite 4200 are, I suspect they will both end up on Ebay in order to subsidize another IOR or Meopta scope for me. I am probably just spoiled, though.
In all honesty, with scopes like Bushnell Elite 4200, Nikon Monarch, Burris Signature Select and Sightron S2 around I can’t see any practical reason for normal hunter/shooter to ever need anything more expensive. Now for the optics nutcases like yours truly…