SWFA S.S. Variable 3-9×42

 
Variable Super Sniper 3-9×42

First Impressions
I have not had much time to play with the Variable SS, but here are some first impressions:

Fit and finish are very good.  Overall styling is of the same type as the fixed magnification Super Sniper, so there is a clear resemblance with the grooves on the eyepiece and dimensions.  There is no parallax correction and in the spot where the fixed SS scopes have the focus ring is the magnification ring.  The magnification ring is fairly wide and easy to grab without it sticking out like a sore thumb.
To focus the ocular you rotate the whole eypiece and then use the lock ring to keep it in place.  The threads are sufficiently coarse, so that focusing the reticle does not take forever.  With the lock ring manually tightened, I can still rotate the ocular if I want to, but it is very stiff.  I do not see it unintentionally rotating out of focus.

The knobs are awesome: tactile and audible (but not too loud, which I like) with a double turn elevation knob.  Clicks are 0.1mil each.  Mil knobs together with Mil reticle: everything matches!!!!!!!!!
FFP Mil-Dot reticle is sized just right: at low magnification thick bars move in enough to work well in low light, while at high magnification they are out of the way enough to not obscure too much of the target.
I only looked at the glass briefly and even that was at night.  At first blush, I think that the optical quality is about on par with Elite 4200, Elite 6500, Sightron S2 Big Sky and S3, etc.  Basically, the glass is likely to fit right in with the better optics coming out of Japan.  Perhaps, someone who has a Nightforce can compare the two.  I will obviously do some more detailed comparisons going forward, but this is the first impression.
There is some tunnel vision between 3x and 4x.  At higher magnifications, there is no “looking-through-a-straw” effect whatsoever.
Now I am trying to decide what I can use for a comparison with the Variable SS.  A brief overview of the market place demonstrated that there is pretty nothing directly comparable.  The only similarly sized FFP scope with combination of Mil reticle and Mil knobs is the much more expensive IOR 2.5-10x42FFP.  The upcoming Weaver Tactical will have 1/4MOA knobs and a different magnification range, but is probably the closest match price-wise (I still expect the Variable SS to be a bit cheaper, but ultimately I am not sure what the price will be).
A day at the range
Since Variable Super Sniper is such an anxiously anticipated product, I am going to stray for my usual modus operandi (run the scope through its paces and then put together as  thorough a review as I can) and instead write things up piecemeal.

I scrounged up a set of 30mm rings and mounted the scope on my AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel:

If you are wondering about the monstrosity in the spot where pistol grip is supposed to be, yes, this is what you have to do an otherwise perfectly nice AR if you live in California.  The scope lying by the side is what I usually have sitting on this rifle, IOR 3-18×42 FFP.  I had a hard time deciding what to take to the range for comparison purposes.  There are a few scopes sitting in my safe right now (yes, I owe a few reviews to people), aside from the ones that are actually mounted on rifles:

I ended up taking four scopes to the range and two rifles: Variable Super Sniper 3-9×42, IOR 3-18x42FFP, Hawke Frontier SF 4-16×42 and Sightron S2 Big Sky 6-24×42.  Truthfully, there is not much in common between these four except that they all have 42mm objective lenses.  Otherwise, they are quite different: magnification ranges do not match, two are equipped with side focus, one with AO and a fourth has no parallax adjustment of a sort.  Two are FFP, and two are SFP.  The reticles are largely different: two have MilDots, one is a MP-8 variant and another has a dot reticle.  Why then did I pick these?  The reason is simple: I wanted to look at the glass.  IOR is a good representative of what you get if you pay a lot more money (more than double), without getting into S&B territory.  Nightforce would probably be a cleaner comparison, but I do not own one.  Hawke Frontier SF and Sightron S2 Big Sky are good representatives of the optical quality you get out of Japan for about six hundred bucks or so.  Besides, a prospective customer for the Variable SS is also likely to look at some competing SFP designs.  Hawke Frontier SF 4-16×42 with MilDot would be one of them (and I am about to return this loaner scope to Hawke, so I wanted to have a last look at it in case I missed a flaw of some sort).  Something from Sightron’s S2 Big Sky line-up would probably be one of the others.  Here is what the Hawke, IOR and Variable SS look like together:

Despite having different tube diameters, all three scopes are of similar overall size, although the 35mm IOR is much heavier than the other two.  Variable Super Sniper and IOR have exposed knobs with 0.1mil per click, while Hawke has tall target knobs under those covers with 1/4 MOA clicks.  I have talked about Hawke and IOR at length at other times, so I will concentrate on the newcomer to the group: Super Sniper.

Mechanics
Mechanically, the Variable Super Sniper has a lot to live up to.  Its fixed magnification brethren is touted as nearly indestructible after all.  I do not plan to do any destructive testing, but the scope certainly has a solid feel to it.  To focus the reticle, the whole eyepiece turns (easy to grasp), but there is a lock ring to tighten it in place once the reticle is as sharp as possibe.  Magnification ring is fairly low profile, but wide enough to be easily grasped.  Knobs are very good indeed.  Elevation knob is of a double turn variety (there is a scale for two turns) with 5 mils per turn.  The windage knob goes plus or minus 2.5mils.  Here is a better snapshot of the knobs:
As you can see the knobs are clearly marked with revolution counters and direction arrows.  They look easily resettable, but I have not tried that yet (I will be moving the scope between rifles anyway).  The clicks were a touch mushy at first, but got considerably crisper with use.  Running a box test was a routine and boring exercise: the clicks looked spot on (within my ability to shoot) and matched the reticle dimensions perfectly.  Here are a couple more snapshots that show the knobs and the logos on the scope:

The turret box does not stick out a whole lot, so I do not expect to have any mounting issues with this scope.  Overall mounting length is also pretty long with plenty of space for rings on both sides of the turret box.  I shot some groups at 100yards with different magnifications (from 3x to 9x) and POI remained consistent across the board.  Reticle focus stayed put one adjusted.
Optics
So far I have only compared it against other scopes in good light.  I looked at it in low light briefly, but not enough to draw conclusions.  I will do that going forward.  In decent light, the scope seemed very good, easily on par with the S2 Big Sky and Hawke.  It had a touch more chromatic aberration at 9x than the Sightron, but nothing objectionable.  Hawke was similar to the Super Sniper in that regard, but with Hawke I could dial some of it out using side-focus.  Resolution was pretty similar to the Hawke and Sightron when all three were set onto the same magnification.  I looked at the resolution charts on 6x and 9x and all three scopes performed well (but not as well as the IOR).  Color accuracy looks to be quite neutral (IOR has a slight warm bias) and I did not see much flare at all. Looking at various targets on the range with the furthest being at about 700 yards, I did not feel handicapped by the lack of parallax adjustment.  On this particular scope, parallax free range seemed to be somewhere between 150 and 200 yards, but I did not run into any parallax issues at longer ranges.  Contrast, like resolution, was quite good, especially in the center of the field of view.  The edges were a little soft, but center 80% of the field of view was excellent.  Speaking of FOV: it is quite wide.  Field of View of the Variable Super Sniper is very similar to the IOR and appreciably wider than Hawke of Sightron.  I suspect that is the tradeoff for slight edge softness.  There is field of view constriction (tunnel effect) from 3x to about 4x.  Above 4x there is no trace of it.  Eye relief changed noticeably between high and low magnification, but not enough to bother me.  The spec suggests that the change in eye relief is quite substantial, so I will measure it when I get a chance.  However, I am usually pretty sensitive to that, and if it does not bother me, it is unlikely to bother most other people.  Overall eye relief flexibility was pretty good.  I usually do not measure it specifically, but get a good feel for it while fitting the scope to the rifle.  I had not problems consistently placing my eye where it was supposed to be and slight deviations did not have a degrading effect on the image.

As you have already figured out, I am sure, I am quite impressed with the Variable Super Sniper so far.  I will test it in low light and report on the results.  I have already dropped a few times (pure accident….) and nothing broke, so I will leave durability testing to those who like breaking things.  Rumor has it that Mike MacDonald did not break this scope despite putting some effort into it.  That’s good enough for me.

Going forward, I think I will put it onto a boltgun rather than an AR.  My 308 Mauser usually has a 10×42 Super Sniper on it.  It turns out that the eyepiece of the 3-9×42 SS is smaller in diameter than that on the 10x Super Sniper.  My Mauser has a pretty high bolt lift and I think the Variable SS will fit on it like a charm.
Here is the Mauser with a Sightron on it, followed by another shot of the Variable SS mounted on an AR using Warne Low QD rings and a LaRue riser.

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