I am going to skip a lot of the usual introductions that people typically make in the beginning of their reviews. It is customary, I suppose, to talk about the company and say a few words about all the goodies that come in the box with it. Personally, I only care how the scope performs. As for the rest of the stuff … well, really… by now all of you have heard of Vortex Optics and you know that their products come nicely packaged with documentation and accessories (better packaged in fact than most scopes out there)
Viper line-up is, for the time being, comprised of the highest end riflescopes made by Vortex. I hear some internet rumors that they will have something more expensive in the future, but I do not know any specifics. The exact scope model that I have reviewed is a 4-12×40 with BDC reticle.
For those who are just looking for a brief summary, here you go: I liked the scope enough to buy it from Vortex. It does have some shortcomings and some competitors have a leg up on it in several respects (I will provide some detail below). Still, I liked it and it matched well with my eyes.
Now, we move onto some specifics. I like to compare scopes with one another. I can take them to work and get some hard numbers, but that will not necessarily tell you anything about how well you see through them. I found that direct comparison against a number of well-known scopes makes for the most relevant information. I compared it to a number of different scopes, some are in the picture below (Picture 1) and some are not. I also had three other people look through the scopes at some resolution charts and tell me their impressions.
Picture 1. From left to right: IOR 3-18x42FFP, IOR 6×42 Hunting with #4 reticle, Bushnell Elite 4200 6-24x40AO w/Mil-Dot, Bushnell Elite 6500 2.5-16×42, Sightron S2 6-24×50 (previous gen), Vortex Viper 4-12×40
I had the Vortex mounted on a few different rifles in the course of my testing, but it spent most of its time on my Savage 12FV Varminter in 22-250. That rifle is very accurate and, equally importantly, is easy to shoot accurately. I am not the greatest shot in the world and I need all the help I can get.
I shot both off the bench and prone off of a bipod about the same amount of time. I shot off hand and sitting when the scope was mounted on a different rifle (Mauser 98 chambered for 7.92×57, and Finnish M39 Mosin Nagant chambered for 7.62x54R).
For detailed specs, you are probably better off visiting Vortex website (www.vortexoptics.com) and looking them up. They are all there. Here is a copy though:
Linear FOV at 100 Yards: 9.2-27.1 feet
Eye Relief: 3.1-3.4 inches
MainTube Diameter: 1 inch
Reticle: V-Plex or Dead-Hold BDC (I reviewed the BDC reticle)
Turret Style: Low profile (and finger resettable)
Adjustment Graduation: 1/4 MOA
W/E AdjustmentRange: 92 MOA
Parallax Setting: 50 to Infinity yards, adjustment via a side-focus knob
Length: 14.4 inches
Fog Proof: Argon gas
Weight: 16.6 ounces
Here are some physical dimensions:
There is nothing especially noteworthy about the dimensions of the scope. It is not the smallest of its type, nor the biggest. One thing that stands out a little bit is the fact that the outer diameter of the eyepiece is among the smallest I have seen on modern scopes. I know that some people complain that the larger eyepiece of certain scopes obstructs the movement of the bolt handle on some rifles when the scope is mounted as low as possible. There is little chance of that happening with the Vortex.
The eyepiece is of the Fast-Focus variety and is well designed: it is neither too stiff nor too light. It is easy enough to adjust, but I do not see it being bumped off track accidentally.
Power adjustment ring is somewhat unique in appearance: the notch indicating the magnification extends back over the eyepiece a bit, so that you can see which magnification the scope is set on without lifting your head from the rifle stock. That is a nice feature. Power adjustment is very smooth with no sticking points.
Overall user-friendliness is exceptionally good: adjustments are smooth and have a quality feel to them.
Windage and Elevation knobs are of low profile and finger resettable variety (to reset zero, you just pull them up and rotate to the desired position, then settle them back down where they are held in place by some spring pressure), similar to what I recently saw on an Elite 6500 scope.
These days, just about every scope maker out there has a holdover reticle of some sort. Some of them are more useful than others, but all should be used with caution. Personally, I am very used to using mil-based reticles (such as Mil-Dot, Gen 2 Mil-Dot, MP-8, etc) for holdover, so I view various cartridge-specific reticles with some caution and a healthy dose of skepticism. With any of those reticles, I usually take the manufacturer’s recommendations on what cartridges they work for and place them where they belong: in the trash. Then I go and figure out the exact ballistics of the cartridge I plan to use and determine which distances correspond to the holdover marks of the reticle at a couple of different magnification settings. The two magnification settings I normally explore are:
- The highest magnification
- The highest magnification usable in low light.
For a scope with a 40mm objective lens, the highest magnification usable in low light (for my eyes) is 6x. For the Vortex scope in question that works out beautifully because the highest magnification is exactly double that.
Before I continue further, I think I should mention why I am somewhat skeptical about most holdover reticle out there: they tend to use hashmarks with variable spacing. That means that if I end up using a different magnification or the distance is not quite perfect for the reticle, I have to remember a bunch of different reticle dimensions. I am not exactly numerically challenged, but I still find that a bit annoying. With a mil-based reticle like IOR’s MP-8, for example, there are full-mil hashmarks and half-mil hashmarks. Even without a ballistic card, that is something I can comfortably use for on-the-spot calculations (when I was growing up in Russia, I did not have a calculator).
With all that out of the way, Vortex’ BDC reticle is not half-bad:
As you can see in the picture above, Vortex’ BDC reticle has a combination of holdover marks on the vertical wire and mil marks on the horizontal wire. The part that I like is that the vertical hashmarks are at -1.5MOA, -4.5MOA (3MOA increment) and -7.5MOA (another 3MOA increment). This I can use for both holdover and range estimation with minimal mental gymnastics. I am still used to mil-based systems, but for those who think in inches and MOA, this is a workable solution. As a practical manner, I was comfortable using the reticle with all three cartridges I tried with it: 22-250, 8×57 and 7.62x54R.
Durability and repeatability
In a nutshell: adjustments were repeatable, point of aim was not effected by magnification changes. I did not break the scope through normal or abnormal operation.
Side-focus knob was smooth and did not exhibit any whiplash that I could detect.
I dropped the scope accidentally (thankfully onto the shooting mat from a shooting bench next to it), but POI did not change despite the fact that a heavy barreled Savage landed on top of the scope.
I generally do not stress W/E adjustments all that much, but what I did with this scope was the following:
– run the box test
– rotate the knobs through the whole adjustment range a couple of times
– return to zero
– run another box test.
Windage and Elevation knobs were accurate to within my ability to shoot groups. Perhaps, a more skilled operator would find some inaccuracy in the system, but I did not see any.
Optically, I liked the scope well enough. To me, it seemed like a more refined version of previous generation Nikon Monarch with a character all its own. Overall, it is on par with its main competitors, such as Bushnell Elite 4200, Sightron S2 Big Sky, Leupold VX-III and Nikon Monarch. Still, all of these scope have somewhat different characteristics. Elite 4200 and S2 Big Sky lead the field in terms of resolution. I had both Elite 4200 and Elite 6500 on hand and they resolved a bit better than Vortex Viper. On the other hand, the Viper had better contrast and more relaxed view. Which one fits your eyes best is really a personal choice. Optically, Viper really has one weakness: tunnel effect. With the Elite 4200 and S2 Big Sky there is no discernible tunnel vision. With the Viper there is always a black donut around the image. I have heard people refer to it as “small image circle” and as tunnel effect. Previous generation Monarch had this as well. A lot of modern scopes (often sporting fatter eyepieces) largely do not suffer from this problem. Whether this is a price to pay for the Viper’s slim eyepiece, I do not know. However, the effect is not very strong and I am not bothered by it.
I suppose what I am saying here is that the optical quality matches the price range. Neither Elite 4200, nor the Viper, nor the older Sightron S3, nor the Elite 6500 are any sort of competition (optically speaking) to my 3-18×42 IOR. However, IOR is $1300+. Within the Viper price range, you are not going to find anything substantially better. If your eyes like resolution, you will like Elite 4200 and Conquest better. If you are more sensitive to contrast, you might pick the Viper. I had three people who do nto know much about scopes evaluate the image quality. In this price range, two picked Elite 4200 and one picked the Viper. The person who picked the Viper was a girl. When pressed for detailed impressions, she said that Elite 4200 was too bright and Viper had better color which helped here see more. After some more detailed questioning, it turned out that her eyes were exceptionally sensitive to white out, which the Elite scopes do occasionally suffer from. Viper seemed totally immune to white out. I also thought that flare was very well controlled. Certainly a bit better controlled than both Elite 4200 and Elite 6500, although none were particularly prone to it.
Low light testing did not yield anything extraordinary. The Viper performed about on par with the competition.
Depth of focus was very good which is nice on a side-focus scope. Speaking of side focus: I liked the way the one on the Viper worked. If I were to change anything on it, I would probably give it a bit more travel. As it is, it requires very little movement to change focusing distance considerably.
Eye relief is not very long, but it is reasonably forgiving. The scope I have, measured at a touch longer than advertised: 3.3” at 12x and 3.5” at 4x. I never got hit by this scope, which is good enough for me.
Most modern scopes in this price range are migrating to 4x erectors. Viper has a 3x erector. Does it matter? That depends on how you plan to use the scope. I would opine that for most of us that is not critical. On the other hand there were two scopes in the group I compared to the Viper that have 6x or greater erectors: IOR 3-18×42 and Bushnell Elite 6500 2.5-16×42. Both were certainly more versatile. Both were also much more expensive. On yet another hand, somewhat more versatile 4x erectors are very commonplace: Elite 4200, new Nikon Monarch, Sightron S2 Big Sky and Burris Signature Select. All three offer more versatility than the Viper at comparable prices. Some other scopes have retained their 3x erectors: Leupold VX-III (being phased out right now), Weaver Grand Slam (a bit of an odd duck since Weaver keeps on changing hands), Sightron S2 (less expensive), Zeiss Conquest (with the cache of Zeiss name and slightly better glass).
Whether, that 3x erector has any effect on actual performance is arguable, but certainly does not help public perception since the bulk of the competition offers wider magnification range. Personally, I would like to see this addressed in future models.
In conclusion, I think that Vortex Viper scopes are very competitive with the competition, but do not really offer anything exceptional. In addition to the 4-12×40 model I reviewed here, I also played with a 3-9×40 model earlier on. I think my impressions then were very similar.
One thing that the Viper definitely has going for it is impressive customer service. Everyone I know who has dealt with the Vortex folks was suitably impressed. In this field, Leupold is widely recognized as the leader in terms of warranty and customer support. I think that Vortex may have Leupold beat in that department, although time will tell.
Written by Alex Kaplan