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Sightron SIII 1-7x24mm Shot show 2012 mini review.


Sightron SIII 1-7x24mm Shot show 2012 mini review.


By Les (Jim) Fischer (BigJimFish on and Snipershide)

January 28, 2012


Sightron is a brand I have little personal experience with, but seems to be popular and well thought of in some target shooting crowds. This year they introduced a 1-7x24mm scope as if to one up the flood of 1-6x choices. I had an opportunity to play around a bit with this optic at Shot. The first thing that will strike you about this scope is its length.


Here is the Sightron 1-7x24mm pictured next to the GRSC reference.


The GRSC seems to be about average or perhaps slightly longer than average for the 1-(n)x scope class. The Sightron is quite simply long though if you see this image and are worried about weight be consoled that, at 20oz, it is really pretty light. I am not surprised at the length given the power range and the laws of physics which specify, indirectly, that it is much easier to make a long scope than a short one and the higher the power the longer. I am often a fan of simply giving in to this constraint as it can allow a scope to be better optically, lighter, and cheaper than a shorter version would be. I really care more about former variables than the latter. I would not call the Sightron cheap, at around $800, but it is reasonably light and I found its optics to be pretty clear edge to edge. The only real issue I had with this scope optically is that it has one of the smallest field of views I encountered. Often times scopes with a small field of view are described as making you feel like your looking through a straw. Perhaps not being helped by its distinctly straw like appearance, the Sightron exemplifies this feeling to me.


I think the adjustments on this scope are a very good place to talk about commonality in scopes today. It is well known that most brands do not entirely, or in many cases even partially, make their own scopes. A result of this trend is that a great deal of commonality can be found between brands. The most shared component of all seems to be the particular adjustments that this Sightron has. These are .1mil, (they can also be found in 1/4moa on other scopes) finger adjustable, and capped turrets. They pull up to rotate freely and allow the zero to be set and then push down for use. You can find these exact turrets, sometimes with a slightly differently styled cap, in 1/4moa or .1mil, on at least the following scopes: Sightron SIII 1-7x24mm, GRSC CRS 1-6x24mm, Weaver 1-5x tactical, Bushnell 1-6.5×24 ffp or 2fp, and the Trijicon TR24. I believe that most of these scopes are made by Light Optic of Japan though I do not think they all are. This adjustment system in whole, or in part, seems to be an off the shelf component. I refer to it as the Light Optics adjustment as short hand though it is not in only Light Optics scopes or in all of Light Optics scopes. I do not find it particularly surprising that these adjustments are found on so many scopes. They have a clean and well machined appearance, have positive tactile and audible clicks, and, at least on the GRSC 1-6x, track perfectly. These adjustments are near the top of my list of preferred adjustments for this class of scope.


Here is a close up of this adjustment mechanism (On the GRSC 1-6x):


This brings me to the illumination and reticle. The Sightron is not winning any prizes in these categories. The reticle is a simple 2nd focal plane German #4 design. It is useless for ranging and not particularly good for close quarters. Only the center dot is illuminated which might help it to be fast close quarters but sadly the illumination is not very substantial and so not helpful. Here are the pics through the scope.


The Sightron 1-7x24mm at 7x:


The Sightron 1-7x24mm at 1x:

Riflescopes: Sightron


Sightron Riflescopes

I routinely field questions along the lines of: “I need a mid-range riflescope for my big game rifle (or some other application), what would be a good scope for the money?” The specifics of the question vary a fair bit and so do my recommendations.  However, there are a few brands that I end up recommending more often than others and Sightron is one of them.
When I was just getting interested in rifles and riflescopes, in the mid-1990s, Sightron was a pretty new company and my first good quality riflescope was a Sightron.  I recall thinking that I am taking a risk by buying a product from a company that is not very well established in the market.   However, the scope (SII 3-9×42 with MilDot reticle) seemed to offer a lot for the money, so I went with it.  I have bought and sold a lot of scopes since then, but I still have that one.  It works as well now as it did originally, despite being more than a little beat up.  In the meantime, I got to play with a dozen or so different Sightrons and two more found a permanent place in my safe: SI 3-9x40MD (on an old Cugir rimfire) and SII Big Sky 6-24x42SIL (on a heavy barrel 22-250).
The company has been around for a while now.  It was founded in 1993 and has primarily focused on riflescopes since then, although it has a nicely diversified range of binoculars along with a couple of spotting scopes.  Still, Sightron started out primarily as a riflescope company, and that is what I will mostly focus on.  
Their product portfolio has grown considerably in the 17 years Sightron has been in business. The overall variety of individual riflescope models that Sightron currently offers is quite bewildering, but they fall into four different product lines with street prices ranging from $100 to $1000.  Historically, all of them were made in Japan.  However, starting in late 2010, the two less expensive line-ups, SI and SII, are manufactured in the Phillipines, albeit by the same company that made them in Japan previously (all of Sightron scopes are made by this company). There are quite a few riflescopes made in Phillipines these days and their quality has been quite good, so it is a reasonable change.  I do not expect the build quality to change for the worse.  On the plus side, it will help protect their pricing from the rising yen.  SII Big Sky and SIII riflescopes will continue to be manufactured in Japan.  

Here are some observation on the different product lines in ascending price order with some information on upcoming products for wrap-up.

The most inexpensive scopes Sightron sells fall into the S1 line that mostly stays in $100-$150 range.  These are 1” tube, fully coated, scopes with three layer multi-coatings on the outside lenses and single layer coatings on the inside ones.  Eye relief is long and fairly flexible on all of the riflescopes in S1 line, although it varies a bit with magnification.  The designs are not especially ambitious: they top out at 10x and do not try to push the envelope.  These are “meat and potatoes” scopes: no frills, but very solid fundamentals. Honestly, at this price range, that is the right approach.  Out of the ten models in the S1 line-up, six are simply variations of the same 3-9×40 design: different finishes and different reticles.  Two of them are on my “most recommended” list: the one with #4 reticle and the one with a MilDot reticle.  The German #4 reticle is an unusual offering in this price range, but it works exceptionally well in low light, giving S1 an edge over many competitors.  
Speaking of competitors: there are many.  In terms of price, S1 faces competition primarily from China and Phillipines, with the most notable competitors being Phillipine-made Weaver 40/44 and Chinese-made Bushnell Trophy XLT.  Sightron S1 also easily holds its own against similarly configured and more expensive Leupold Rifleman and Nikon Pro-Staff.  Perhaps, the strongest competitor to S1 is the slightly more expensive Redfield Revolution which offers marginally better glass and more configurations.  On the other hand, the very visible German #4 reticle gives S1 a slight edge in low light target acquisition.

S2 has been the mainstay of Sightron line-up for a number of years, although it has been somewhat eclipsed lately by the newer (and more expensive) S2 Big Sky scopes.  Still, S2 scopes offer a lot for the money.  S2s are fully multicoated, 1” tube, designs with four-layer coatings on all lens surfaces.  Depending on the model, they utilize either 3x or 4x magnification ratios.  They have fairly flexible eye relief that varies a little with magnification (less so than S1 scopes).  Eye relief itself is different across the model range with high magnification models having 3.0-3.7 inches of eye relief well suited to varmint and target rifles.  Models of more moderate magnification have longer eyerelief in line with their intended use: big game hunting.  All models with magnification above 10x have adjustable objectives to compensate for parallax error at both close and long range.  They focus down to 12 yards and make a fine choice for precision rimfire as well as centerfire rifles.  Sightron makes a number of scopes aimed at target shooting and covering a considerable price range, such as the fixed power 36×42 (pictured below) and variable 6-24×42 and 4-16×42, all with Target Dot retices.

S2 36x42
Mechanically, S2 scopes have Sightron’s ExacTrack windage and elevation adjustments.  lt is a somewhat different take on making consistent clicks, but the end result is that Sightron S2 has better adjustments, especially at the edges of the adjustment range, then most scopes in this price range.  
Speaking of price range, S2 line occupies an interesting one that falls between the distinct product and quality levels of the competition. For example, Sightron S2 is distinctly better than Bushnell Elite 3200 scopes, but not quite as good as Elite 4200.  Pricewise, they are a little closer to the former than the latter.  Perhaps the most direct competition for Sightron S2 comes from Leupold VX-2 and FX-2.  S2 scopes have similar performance for a bit less money and have a performance edge with higher magnification scopes. Nikon Buckmaster and Vortex Diamondback scopes offer some similarly priced competition among the lower magnification models.

SII Big Sky
This model line has the most variety of offerings among Sightron’s products, and these scope fall into a price range that I consider the sweetspot of performance vs cost.  Depending on configuration, one of these will cost you somewhere between $300 and $600.  Despite the similarity in name with the cheaper SII scopes, these do not have a whole lot in common.  Eyepiece focus means are the same: the whole eyepiece turns on a mid-coarse thread and has a lock ring.  SII Big Sky also has ExacTrack windage and elevation adjustments.  However, that is where the similarities largely end.  SII Big Sky scopes have notably better optical quality, larger adjustment ranges (for the same configurations) and much greater variety of models, from a diminutive (and very underrated) 1.25-5×20 model with a simple plex reticle:

S2BS 1.25-5x20
to a much larger 6-24x42AO scope with MilDot reticle:
S2BS 6-24x42
Also, somewhat unusually, SII Big Sky offers a rather large assortment of well designed and optimized fixed power scopes, which is not common in a market place obsessed with variable designs: 6×42, 12×42, 24×44 and 36×42 (if you want a lower magnification fixed power, you have to go down to SII model line for a 4×32 version), with the higher powered verson available with eitehr target dot or crosshair reticles.
All of the SII Big Sky scopes have 1” tubes and covered knobs.  On higher magnification models, the knobs are easily finger adjustable if you remove the covers.  The adjustments are either 1/4MOA or 1/8MOA depending on the model.  Magnification ratios are either 3x or 4x.  High magnification models with 4x erectors (4-16×42 and 6-24×42, for example) use Adjustable Objectives to focus the image and compensate for parallax.  These have 1/8MOA clicks and are aimed predominantly at target shooters.  There are also a couple of models with 3x erectors and somewhat larger objectives that offer side-focus.  These 4.5-14×44 and 6.5-20×50 scopes are equipped with 1/4MOA click knobs and are a better choice for shooters who lean a little bit more toward the tactical side, but do not want to step up to SIII models.
SII Big Sky scopes are fully multi-coated, with 7-layer ZACT7 coatings on the outer lenses along with water repellent Climate Control coatings.  Eye relief is long and effectively constant with magnification.  Except for the 36×42 model, all SII Big Sky scopes have eye relief falling between 3.8 and 4.2 inches (I am a stock crawler, so I welcome that).
As far as competition goes, SII Big Sky is in a hotly contested price segment where it goes against Leupold VX-3 and FX-3, Bushnell Elite 4200 and Vortex Viper.  The choice between these really comes down to the individual models, since all of them have their strengths and weaknesses.  SII Big Sky holds an edge in consistent and long eye relief and unusually large adjustment range for scopes with 1” tubes.  Optically, it is a toss up with Sightron slightly leaning toward higher resolution over contrast, while Leupold and Vortex make the opposite compromise. Bushnell is somewhere in the middle.  Ultimately, it is hard to go wrong with any of these, unless you have some very specific requirements (like long and consistent eye relief, where S2 Big Sky shines).

These are the highest end scopes Sightron makes.  SIII line-up went through a thorough redesign in 2008 and has been receiving a lot of attention since, especially from people looking for high magnification in sub-$1000 range.  At the time of this writing, I can think of no other scope in this price range that exceed the optical performance of SIII scopes at magnifications above 20x (or below 20x for that matter).  I will even go out on a limb and say that in order to appreciably improve on SIII’s optical performance (at high magnification), you have to spend nearly twice the money.
All SIII scopes are built on 30mm tubes, feature full-on multicoating (ZACT7 on outer lenses) and introduce Fast Focus eyepieces (unlike the less expensive Sightrons).  Overall optical design looks to be significantly different from other Sightrons as well.  If I had to guess, I would say that the objective lens system of SIIIs is appreciably more complicated and better corrected than is typical for this price range, explaining the excellent performance above 20x.  All variable power SIII scopes feature Side-Focus for image adjustment and parallax compensation.  Current line-up includes 3.5-10×44, 3.5-10x56IR, 6-24×50, 8-32×56 and 10-50×60 models, with several different reticles available in the three higher magnification models.  Also, for the time being, the 3.5-10×56 is the only model in Sightron’s line-up that offers an illuminated dot to go with its German #4 reticle.  All of the SIII scopes are rather substantial, but they are not really intended for slim mountain rifles.  For example, I find myself recommending the 8-32×56 model to long range shooters (both varmint and target) more than any other scope I can think of:

All SIII scope have flexible and consistent eye relief ranging from 3.6 to 4 inches.
They primarily compete against other Japanese scopes with 30mm tubes.  However, because of the emphasis on high magnification, there is very little direct competition that offers both similar configurations and similar pricing.  Here are the ones I can think of: Bushnell Elite 4200 6-24×50, Burris Black Diamond 6-24×50 and 8-32×50, Bushnell Elite 6500 4.5-30×50, Leupold VX-3 30mm 8.5-25×50, Burris XTR 6-24×50.  These scopes can hang with SIII out to about 20x-24x, but if you need more magnification, SIII is effectively the only sub-$1000 game in town.
Lastly, the 3.5-10x44MD model is often overlooked, but it is easily one of the better DMR scopes on the market.  It is optically superb.  It has enough magnification and adjustment range to shoot quite far out, and it is exceptionally easy to get behind.

Electronic Sighting Devices
In addition to the traditional riflescopes, SIghtron also makes a couple of rather well-conceived red dot sight that deserve a few words.  Both are based on a 33mm tube and come with appropriately sized rings.  One model has been around for a few years and is a fairly conventional red dot sight, except it offers four different reticle configurations: dot, circle-dot, crosshair, and a combination crosshair with a circle-dot.  The other red-dot sigh Sightron offers is somewhat more unusual despite only having a simple 5MOA dot for an aiming option.  The dot intensity is controlled via a large knob on the side of the sight body.  However, one of the settings puts it into an Auto mode, where the feedback from an ambient light sensor determines dot brightness.  There are other sights on the market that either let you control the dot brightness or have the auto adjustment.  However, combining the two is unusual, and Sightron’s implementation of it is quite functional.

New for 2011
New for 2011 models seem to be mostly confined to SIII line.  First of all, if you carefully look at the current configurations, you’ll note a significant gap between 3.5-10x scopes and the 6-24x.  There will be a new model introduced at SHOT to fill that gap.
Also, select SIII scopes will receive 0.1mrad knobs to go with MilDot reticles.  Scopes that retain MOA-based clicks will be available with a new MOA-based reticle with 2MOA hashmarks.  Additionally, some scopes with MOA-based reticle will receive an illuminated dot as well.  All of these models will be introduced at SHOT 2011 as well.
For my part, I think SIII 3.5-10×44 with MilDot reticle and 0.1mrad clicks will make a superb SPR scope.

 Posted by at 10:35 pm

10×42 riflescopes: Sightron S3 and SWFA Super Sniper


10×42 Tactical Riflescopes: Sightron S3 and SWFA S.S.

Unlike the rest of my reviews, I will not provide a “Cliff’s notes” version of this one.  However, if all you want is my conclusion, feel free to skip over to the end.

The world of riflescopes is, largely, dominated by variable power designs.  In principle, they are heavier, bulkier, more complicated and less durable than fixed power riflescopes.  In practice, they are only marginally heavier, hardly bulkier, and as far as quality makers are concerned, so reliable that any difference is hard to detect. On the other hand, variable power scopes are, naturally, a lot more flexible and versatile than their fixed power brethren.  That having been said, fixed power scopes have a few things going for them.  Aside from (and in addition to) the qualities mentioned above, fixed power scopes have fewer lenses in them, so they are can theoretically provide better performance, albeit at only one magnification, due to higher light transmission.  Honestly, in my opinion, total amount of light transmitted by a scope is not especially important by itself.  However, what is important is that as little as possible is reflected at every glass surface (those reflections.  With the quality of Anti-Reflective (AR) coatings we have today, light transmission/reflection should not be an issue.  Where fixed magnification scopes do have an advantage from an optical standpoint is in system design: it is much easier to optimize the optical formula for a single magnification than for a range of them.


Similarly, it is easier to really beef up the mechanicals in a fixed power scope without making the whole thing weigh a ton than it is in a variable.


In a nutshell, fixed power scopes have the following going for them:

· Theoretically, they are more rugged

· You often get better quality for the money since the whole system is less complex and easier to optimize (although with fixed power scopes being less popular than in the past, the economies of scale are working against you)


At the moment, fixed power scopes have only a few footholds remaining in the shooting market, but these footholds may have quite a bit of longevity to them.  One of these market segments is the “tactical” market.  High end variable power scopes with ranging reticles and exposed knobs are expensive.  There are very few high quality sub-$1000 variable scopes in this market and top of the line ones are in the >$2500 range.  If you do not have that much money to spend, your choices get somewhat limited and too many of those choices are simply hunting/varmint scopes with a “tactical” label plastered onto them. Here is where fixed power scopes come in.  For a long time now, if you were so inclined, you could get a 10×42 riflescope for ~$300 that was designed with tactical applications in mind and had an enviable reputation for being very rugged. A few years back, the optics of this scope have gone through a redesign and are very good for the money.  The scope of course, is the SWFA Super Sniper (S.S.) that started its existence a while back under Tasco banner, but is fully owned by SWFA now.  Recently, a couple more 10×42 scopes were introduced with essentially the same features.  One is the S.S. 10x42HD (S.S.HD).  This is a heavier duty and higher spec version of the original S.S. made at a different factory.  This is a limited production number retailing for ~$800.  Another is the Sightron S3 10×42 that slots neatly between the two Super Snipers in terms of price.  There are a few other 10×42 (or 10×40) riflescopes on the market.  I included a few in the table below that I thought would be most relevant.  There are quite a few that I left out for various reasons:

· Bushnell Elite 3200 10×40 and Weaver Grand Slam 10×40 do not have parallax adjustment which I consider very important for a scope of this type

· IOR’s steel tube 10×42 is a very nice scope, but it looks to have been discontinued

· There are a few 10x50and 10×56 scopes out there.  While I would probably prefer these configuration to the 10×42, they are sufficiently different to not fit here.


Here are the specs (the three scopes in bold font are the ones I am comparing, the rest are for background information):

Sightron S3 10×42

SWFA S.S. 10×42

SWFA S.S. 10x42HD

Hawke Sidewinder 30 Tactical 10×42

Leupold Mark 4 LR/T 10×40




Length, in







Weight, oz







Main Tube Diameter







Eye Relief, in







FOV, ft@1000yards







Click Value

1/4 MOA

1/4 MOA


1/4 MOA

1/4, 1/2, and 1 MOA available


Adjustment range

150 MOA

150 MOA

38 mrad (~130 MOA)

80 MOA

75 MOA


(~45 MOA)

Single turn adjustment

15 MOA

15 MOA

5mrad (~18MOA)

15 MOA

depends on the knobs

single turn turret

Parallax Adjustment














Country of Origin





US Assembly, Pacific Rim parts


In terms of size and weight, Hawke (the only Chinese scope here) is bigger than the others, the rest are pretty close to each other dimensionally. The three scopes I have on hand here are the only scopes I know of that have rear parallax adjustment.  What type of parallax adjustment you prefer is in the eye of the beholder, but if you are a lefty, rear parallax is more comfortable than side-focus.  Personally, I do not have a strong preferences one way or the other as long as it works well.

The original S.S. has quite a bit more field of view than the Sightron or the S.S.HD.  In terms of eye relief the three scopes are very similar to each other, if anything the S.S. has a little less eye relief than Sightron and S.S.HD.  S.S. does have the largest eyepiece which helps with the field of view.


S.S. 10x42HD has mrad clicks to go with the MilDot reticle.  That, to me, is a big deal.  Ranging and dialing in are a fair bit simpler when both the reticle and the knobs are based on the same angular unit.


Aside from that, there is little to differentiate the three scopes I have here in terms of specs.  All three have gobs of adjustment range, which is very important for long range shooting.  Given a choice, I do not like to operate my scopes near the edge of the adjustment range.


Mechanical Quality

I have made a reasonable attempt to break these scopes, and they laughed in my face.  Repeatedly. So I gave up. All three track beautifully. I ran them on a number of rifles from 223Rem to 338Lapua, but mostly used them on 308Win and 8×57 Mauser.  I saw no recoil-associated mechanical problems.  I also know of quite a few S.S. scopes sitting on 50BMG rifles so I doubt durability is a major concern.  Sightron S3 scopes have been around for a while, so I am not particularly concerned about their durability either.  However, fixed power S3 scopes are new, so it remains to be seen how they hold up.


These are rather “meat and potatoes” designs, so you do not have a whole lot in term of controls to worry about.  All you have are the windage/elevation knobs, rear parallax and eyepiece focus.


The S3 spent most of its time on my 308Win boltgun and I think this configuration is a very good match for it:


I also had it mounted on my AR-15 in 223Rem and while it is a good match for tactical uses, I generally like a little more magnification (for shooting at tiny targets).  Still I rotated the three 10×42 scopes between 308Win and 223Rem rifles to make sure this is a fair comparison.  I checked adjustment repeatability with both rifles.  Here is the 10×42 Super Sniper on the AR:

All three scopes tracked well, but as far as the knobs go, the S.S.HD is clearly the best one of the three.  The clicks are stiff, but very well defined.  There is no hysteresis.  They are very easy to reset using only one hex bolt at the top of the turret).  Resetting Sightron S3 or S.S. knobs is no rocket science either, but it does involve four small recessed hex bolts that need to be loosened. Knob feel is very different between the three scopes.  S3 knobs are very light.  They are too light for a tactical scope.  I had these knobs shift on me in transportation, and I had a hard time using them while wearing gloves. The good news is that Sightron is well aware of the problem, and they tell me that click tension of the knobs has been re-adjusted in the current scopes (I have a rather early production version) to be stiffer.  Same for the parallax adjustment knob. On the scope I have it is simply too light.  The knobs on the original S.S. are a little mushier than those on S3, but are reliable and easy to adjust. They are also stiff enough for me to not worry too much about accidentally bumping them.

Here is where things get complicated.  I have a fair amount of mileage with variable Sightron S3 scopes and like them quite a bit.  This fixed power S3 is quite simply not up to the optical standard set by the other S3 scopes I have seen.  I figured that perhaps I happened to have a bad sample, so I asked around a little bit and while the scope is new there are a few of them out there.  The feedback I got was similar to my impression: decent scope, but not quite as good as expected.
Here is the rundown on the glass:
  • Resolution is pretty decent, but not spectacular for the price.  It is a touch better than the $300 10×42 Super Sniper and a touch worse than the (presumably lower grade) Sightron S2 Big Sky 6-24×42 I happen to have.
  • Contrast is where this scope is most clearly behind the rest of the S3 line.  It just wasn’t as good as I expected.
  • Chromatic aberration was fairly noticeable and is, I suspect, one of the drivers behind the lower than expected contrast.
  • When the conditions were ideal, S3 performed very well.
  • When the light got very bright, there was some white-out flare degrading the image.  For very bright light both of the Super Sniper scopes performed better than the S3.
  • Similarly, when the light got low, the S3 image quality degraded appreciably.  Here, there is something I can not quite explain other than as an aftereffect of insufficient contrast.  Typical low light artefacts like ghost images, flare, etc, were not especially sever.  However, detail definition was dropping as the light was dropping at an alarming rate.

I spent a LOT of time going back and forth between the scopes, two at a time, making sure that I am not seeing things.  Typically I would mount them side by side pointing at the same object, and I repeated the same exercise with varying lighting and on different days.  The results were the same every time.  Here is the Sightron S3 and S.S. HD:



The conclusion is really very simple.  I did not like Sightron S3 10×42 very much.  It is a serviceable scope, but the competition is too good.  It held zero and stayed repeatable, but the adjustments were too light.  Glass was uninspiring as well, and while not horrible, it was simply not good enough for the price.
The good old 10×42 Super Sniper is a raging bargain for ~$300, and I can’t recommend shelling out the extra cash ($550) for the 10×42 Sightron S3 (if you are looking for a variable though, I can comfortably recommend the 3.5-10×44 S3.
If you want a step up in performance, I suggest you move up the price range a little bit and spend the $800 on an HD version of the Super Sniper.  I am not aware of a 10×42 scope this side of a S&B, that I would take over the S.S. 10x42HD.



On a separate note, one feature of Sightron S3 that I did like was the reticle:

S3 reticle

It is a Mil-Dot reticle with half-mil hashmarks added.  I find those additional hashmark facilitate both ranging and holdover.

 Posted by at 2:06 am

Sightron S2 Big Sky 1.25-5×20


Brief take on Sightron’s S2 Big Sky 1.25-5×20


Another OpticsTalk forum member (Wally) was kind enough to send me his scope for T&E.  Since the scope was not mine, I did not torture it mechanically, but I spent some time looking at the glass quality in varying lighting conditions from bright daylight to middle of the night with no moon.

I mounted it on two different rifles for a couple of trips to the range: a 223 semiauto and a 8mm Mauser.

First, a brief summary: It is a nice little scope.  I sufficiently like it to seriously consider buying one for myself.  The only thing I disliked about it was the reticle.  I would have preferred a thicker reticle, like #4.  With the plex reticle it has, I was able to properly aim at a target with it in about as low of a light as I could with my Burris Fullfield II with #4 reticle.  Although the Sightron has far superior glass, I has a hard time seeing the reticle in low light against a reasonably dark background.  

Optically, the Big Sky seems to be a little better than the original S2 and about on par with Elite 4200.  It is hard to say exactly since I did not have a truly equivalent Elite 4200 to compare it with (I do have a 1.1-4×24 Elite 4200 on the way and I will compare it to the same scopes this SIghtron was compared to to get some idea).  It is certainly better than my 1.75-5×20 Burris Fullfield II and better than Leupold VX-3 1.5-5×20 that I had a chance to play with alongside the Sightron.  Based on some earlier comparisons I did, I would say that the Big Sky is better than the previous generation Nikon Monarch, which had a 1.5-4.5×20 model and better than Weaver Grand Slam 1.75-5×32.  I do not currently have Burris SIgnature Safari 1.75-5×32, but personally I would probably take the Big Sky over it, but it is hard to say offhand.

I did not see much of a parallax issue.  There was some parallax error I could detect at 25 yards when using 5x magnification, but very little of it.  Looking at various objects at various distances, it looked like the parallax was corrected at ~150 yards for the conditions I was in: 110F and dry as hell.  Not sure what the altitude was, but definitely lower than 1000ft elevation.

I was able to resolve 22 cal bullet holes at 100 yards, but with some difficulty and not in all backgrounds.  I do not recall ever being able to do that with a compact scope made in Japan and of similar cost before.  With IOR scopes I can typically see 22 cal bullet holes with 4x to 5x, but those scopes are more expensive.  I had a couple of IORs with me at the range (along with a few other scopes), so I think I got a reasonably decent idea of this scope’s capabilities.

I did not see any flare issues when playing with it during sunset.  Off axis light sources did not produce any particularly objectionable image artifacts.  

Eye relief was pretty long and nearly constant at right around four inches.  Adjustments were spot on.  The scope passed the box test with flying colors and POI did not seem to shift perceptibly at different magnifications.  

I did not get a chance to properly test the hydrophobic coatings, but breathing on the lenses during a reasonably chilly morning did not prevent me from being able to see through the scope reasonably well.

All in all, I really liked the scope, but the reticle should have been thicker.  I do not quite understand why scope makers put thin reticles into low range variables, but then again, there are a lot of things I do not understand.

 Posted by at 12:24 am

Sightron’s Silhouette Scope

Sightron S2 Big Sky 6-24×42 Silhouette

I have used this scope in a couple of comparisons already, but I figured it was worth a short write-up exclusively dedicated to it.

I make no secret that I like Sightron products along with a couple of other scope lines.  
For midrange scopes, 90% of the time, I find myself recommending Sightron S2 Big Sky or Bushnell Elite 4200 or Vortex Viper.  
I have had good luck with all of them and I think they offer a lot for the money.

To the best of my knowledge, all Sightron scopes are made in Japan and Sightron’s two core line-ups of 1″ tubed scopes: S2 and S2 Big Sky are offered in an ungodly number of combinations of reticles, finishes, magnification ranges, and objective sizes.

One thing I always wished Sightron would do is get away from using 1/8 MOA clicks in their high magnification variable scopes. Historically, all Sightron scopes with Adjustable Objectives and top end magnification above 12x had 1/8 MOA clicks with 10MOA per turn.  I always thought that was not optimal for long range shooting and coarser clicks would work better.
A while back when Sightron introduced 1″ scopes with Side Focus they built them with 1/4 MOA clicks, to my delight.  Still, those scopes have 3x erectors (4.5-14×44 and 6.5-20×50) while the 4x erector 4-16x42AO and 6-24x42AO scopes soldiered on with 1/8 MOA clicks.
More recently, apparently after a barrage of complaints, Sightron made a version of 6-24×42 scope with 1/4 MOA clicks.  Since this version of the scope is called “Silhouette” I must assume that most of the pressure came from Silhouette shooters.
If you would rather have finer 1/8 MOA clicks, all other 6-24×42 S2 Big Sky scopes are equipped with those.
The Silhouette scope comes with a fine “dot and crosshair” reticle:
The dot size (A) looks to be about 1/2 MOA at the highest magnification, but I did not bother to check it specifically.  It is small enough for very precise aiming, and that is really my primary concern.  This is not a low light hunting scope.  It’s best use is for target shooting.  Sightron reticles are made of wire (as opposed to the more popular glass etched designs).  While that limits the reticle selection somewhat, I have not had any problems with Sightron reticles failing.
Here are some specs of the Sightron and its competitors (all 1″ tube scopes with 4x erectors):

Bushnell Elite 4200

Nikon Monarch
Sightron S2 Big Sky 
6-24×42 SIL
Length, in 16.9 15.5 15
Weight, oz 20.2 20.5 17.6
Field of View, ft@100 yards 18 – 6 16.8 – 4.2 15.7 – 4.4
Eye Relief, in 3.3 3.6 – 4.2 3.7 – 4.0
Side Focus or Adjustable Objective? AO SF AO
Click Value, MOA 1/8 1/8 1/4
Adjustment Range, MOA 26 30 60
There are other scopes that compete with the three above (Burris Signature Select 6-24×44 comes to mind), but these are fairly representative of the market place.  In terms of specs, there is nothing really exceptional about the Sightron except the adjustment range, which is unusually large for a 1″ tube scope of high magnification.  Field of view is a bit narrower than Elite 4200 (another one of my favorites), but eye relief is longer.  Still, the most notable conclusion is that if you want to shoot long range and use knobs to dial in your shots, with Bushnell and Nikon you pretty much have to upgrade to the heavier and more expensive 30mm tube models.  With Sightron you can make do with a 1″ tube S2 Big Sky in reasonable comfort. As a matter of fact, it has more adjustment range than quite a few competing 30mm tube models, such as Bushnell Elite 4200 6-24×50 and Burris Black Diamond 6-24×50.

I used it on three different rifles: Savage 12FV in 22-250, AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel and my ’98 Mauser chambered for 308Win. Here is the Sightron sitting on the Mauser, where it spent most of the time:


In the picture above, it is mounted in Warne rings on top of a Ken Farrell base.  The base is a bit higher than I would have liked, but this is an intermediate (Yugo M48) Mauser action and there aren’t any other one piece bases available.  Still, with the adjustable Karsten cheek piece, scope height was not a problem.  

Over the years, I have been involved in a few arguments on whether Side Focus (SF) or Adjustable Objective (AO) is a better way to take care of image focusing and parallax correction.  Generally, I find Side Focus a little more convenient, but AO has its advantages as well.  For example, when I practice shooting left-handed, AO is easier to reach.  Also, due to a larger diameter of the objective adjustment, it is often easier to make a fine adjustment.  Hence, I can certainly see why many target shooters prefer AO, while tactical shooters side with the more convenient and, seemingly, more robust Side Focus adjustment.  Whether SF is, indeed, more robust or not, I have no way of telling, but from a design standpoint SF is easier to make very durable.  In practical terms, if you plan to use your scope to pound nails, go with Side Focus, otherwise, it should not make much practical difference once you get used to one method or the other.
This scope has medium height target knobs as well as screw-on covers.  Here is a look at the knobs:



As I have expounded above, each click is 1/4 MOA, with each full revolution allowing for 20 MOA of adjustment.  There are revolution counters as well, so if you have to adjust beyond one turn you know where you are.  Clicks are fairly light but crisp and repeatable. Had this scope not been equipped with covers, I would probably be a little concerned about accidentally bumping them off adjustment. Still, this scope is unlikely to be carried through brush a whole lot, unless someone decides to use it for a walking varminter.  I ran the knobs through a standard box test and spent some time shooting at targets near and far.  Adjustments were accurate and repeatable to within my ability to shoot.

Optically, Sightron S2 Big Sky is very good.  The image is bright and clear.  Resolution is very good as is the contrast.  I recently compared this scope to a few of its competitors: Leupold VX-3, Vortex Viper and Hawke Frontier SF.  Sightron performed very well and slightly out resolved others in good light.  In low light this particular scope is a bit bothered by bright light sources outside of the field of view and about 2 o’clock position.  I have not seen this on other S2 Big Sky scopes, so I suspect it is unique to this one.  Still, it is not particularly objectionable.  There is no tunnel vision to speak of, and eye relief is both long and fairly flexible.
The magnification range of 6-24x, while pretty common, is somewhat ambitious for a moderately sized 42mm objective lens.  On a warm California day, the highest magnification was only useable fairly early in the morning when it was already quite bright, but there was still not enough heat on the ground to cause serious mirage.  At 24x, the exit pupil is only 1.75mm in diameter and that is only usable in the best of conditions.  I ended up mostly using the scope somewhere between 10x and 16x, depending on how hot it got. As the sun was setting I slowly dialed down to 6-8x.  The image remained bright and clear, but the thin target reticle was never designed for low light.
I have spent a fair amount of time in the past with Sightron’s (as well as other makers’) scopes equipped with 1/8 MOA clicks.  Dialing in was quite a bit simpler with 1/4 MOA clicks.  The range where I shoot only goes out to 700 yards, but while shooting 175gr SMKs, I was able to get to the furthest plate on the range within one revolution of the elevation knob and with a lot less click counting.
Ultimately, within Sightron’s line-up the side focus 6.5-20×50 S2 Big Sky is probably still a better choice for longer range applications owing to a larger objective lens.  However, now those who prefer finer focus adjustment with AO or simply want to have 24x at their disposal have an option with 1/4 MOA clicks.
On balance, I think this scope competes well against other mid/top-end Japanese glass like Elite 4200, Leupold VX-3, etc.  
I look at quite a few scopes every year.  Some are virtual copies of their competitors.  Personally, I always wonder what the manufacturer was thinking when they came out with a particular scope, and what was intended to be the differentiating feature of a particular model or line-up.  I think Sightron’s S2 Big Sky and S3 scopes make for very compelling line-ups both optically and mechanically.  Still, there are numerous competitors who are as good or almost as good and available for similar money or less.  Where Sightron has an advantage is in the adjustments: the knobs are very repeatable and the adjustment range is typically more generous than that of the competition.

ILya Koshkin, July 2009

 Posted by at 11:42 pm
Jul 062018

I am fibbing a little. This is not my first look at this scope, since I spent a couple of days with a prototype. However, this the first time I see the production reticle.

I mounted the scope on my light-ish AR chambered for 5.56×45. This gun has very light stock and handguard, but the barrel is not a pencil weight and the receivers and BCG are of standard weight. With the new 2.5-10×32 SS Ultralight in a light Aerotech mount, the whole rifle, with the sling, weighs in at around 7.6lbs.  The fact that the scope itself weighs in at less than 10 ounces is kinda cool.

With dedicated light weighted receivers, lighter weight barrel and lighter BCG, I can probably make a nice hunting AR chambered for the Blackout or something similar, weighing in right around 6lbs with the scope.  That is an appealing thought right there…

I will spend more time working out the turrets, but my initial impressions are that the tracking is accurate and the feel is surprisingly good for something with covered turrets.

One of the things I check first is if the turrets match the reticle and that is what I did with this scope briefly after sight in.  The reticle is a basic plex design with 12MOA opening between the thick lines.  I did a quick test of 6MOA adjustment and 12 MOA adjustment with the elevation turret and so far so good.

The reticle is roughly the same thickness as other standard plex reticles out there.  Thick line is 0.8MOA and thin line is 0.2MOA at 10x.  That is very close to similar reticles from Leupold, Sightron, etc.











I’ll take better reticle pictures when I have the scope on a tripod.  These are sorta handheld with a cellphone, so the quality is not great.  However, this give you an idea of line thicknesses.

While we are on the subject of reticles, after some harassment, SWFA fessed up that they will add a second reticle to this line-up in a few months, designed to work with 223Rem at 10x.  Here is what the reticle will look like:

Upcoming BDC reticle

I’ll run some basic ballistics and see how the BDC works with common AR cartridges.  I checked how it does with 223 and it should be spot on with typical 55-60 grain bullets.  I will tabulate what I come up with for other AR cartridges.  One thing I really like about this design is that the holdover lines are thinner than the primary aiming point.  That is a very good compromise between holdover tree and low light visibility.  The primary aiming dot is 0.4MOA, the lines to its side and above are 0.3MOA thick and the lines in the holdover tree are 0.2MOA thick. Thick bars are 1.6MOA thick which should make for excellent low light visibility.  It looks like a clever enough design and I will spend some time working up how it fits different calibers.

The turrets are capped and resettable with 0.25MOA clickls.  Sighting in was very uneventful, which is always a good sign.

One outstanding feature of this scope is the slim eyepiece.  Eye relief is a bit on a short side which works well for ARs and micro action bolt guns, but I would not put it on a boomer.   Despite comparatively short eye relief (which you need to maintain good FOV with a slim eyepiece), eye relief flexibility is quite good and the scope is rather easy to get behind.  I spent some time shooting offhand and sitting and had no problems getting the right sight picture.  Generally, the market is not awash in 2.5-10x ultralight scope, so finding comparables was not easy:

SWFA SS Ultralight 2.5-10×32 Sightron S-Tac 2-10×32 Leupold VX-3i 2.5-8×36 (2.6-7.8x actual) Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32 Sig Whiskey3 2-7×32
Length, in 10.9 11.8 11.4 11 11.2
Weight, oz 9.5 16 11.4 13.4 14.8
Main Tube Diameter 1” 30mm 1” 1” 1”
Eye Relief, in 3.35 – 2.56 4.2 – 3.6 4.5 -3.6 3.8 3.5
FOV, ft@1000yards 41.2 – 10.5

21 @ 5x

38.4 – 9.1

18.4 @ 5x

37.5 – 13.7

21.4 @ 5x

72.2 – 13.2

21.1 @ 5x

45.4 – 13.1

18.34 @ 5x

Reticle Illumination No No No No Yes
Click Value 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.25 MOA 0.5 MOA
Adjustment per turn 15 MOA 15 MOA 15 MOA
Adjustment range 70 MOA 100 MOA 67 MOA 110 MOA 110 MOA
Parallax 100 yards 100 yards 100 yards No No
Reticle Location SFP SFP SFP SFP SFP
Price $300 $300 $400 $750 $290

Of the scopes in this table, I have the ultralight SS and Razor HD LH on hand, although the most direct competition is Sightron S-Tac and Leupold VX-3i.  The new SS is definitely the lightest of the bunch.

Side by side with the Razor HD LH, the Vortex is a better scope optically (as it should be given the price difference), but SSUL is no slouch and resolves well.  There is less color pop with it though.  The only other 32mm scope I currently have on hand is an older Bushnell Elite 6500 1.25-8×32.  The SSUL seems similar to that scope in terms of optics.  I’ll do some more testing and see how it all works out.

From a usability standpoint, there is no tunneling of any sort and the scope is easy to get behind, so offhand shooting at 2.5x works quite nicely for me.

Here are the Razor HD LH and SWFA SS UL side-by-side:

SWFA SS UL 2.5-10×32 and Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32

Note the difference in eyepiece diameters.  Another thing to note is that with the SS, I can use two separate rings instead of a single piece mount.  With Razor HD LH on an AR, I have to use a single piece mount since it has to be positioned fairly far forward.  While in principle it shouldn’t matter much whether you use a since piece mount or two rings, there are a couple of advantages (and disadvantages) to using separate rings.  The disadvantage is that the picatinny rail better be machined well.  The advantage is that with two separate rings, I can use the scope as a carry handle which is quite convenient.  It also frees up a lot of rail space if I want to add a red dot sight at 45 degrees (which I might) or any other accessories.

So far, I like the little scope.  Obviously, it being a new design, durability is not yet known, so I will keep track of how these do and beat this one up a little.

 Posted by at 4:21 pm
Feb 262018

I answer quite a few questions via PM on different forums where I participate and every once in a while, I take one and make a blog post out of it.  A little while back, I received something I though was worth exploring:

Most comparisons don’t compare across price lines, except for your fun “if I could only have one” thread. Looking mostly at FFP 5-25 and I am trying to decide how much better a scope I am getting if I go with something in the Athlon Ares/PST GENII $725-$900 range versus jumping up to an Athlon Cronus/Sig Tango 6/Vortex Razor range at $1425-$1800, Athlons being new at the bottom of both those ranges. With several good deals popping up on here for Sigs and the dealers offering good pricing on Athlon, I am a little torn.

There is a reason why it is difficult to compare across price lines simply because quantifying what is worth the money is kinda complicated.

A basic rifle scope that you put on a hunting rifle really has two jobs:

  1. Stay zeroed
  2. Show the target and the reticle well enough to pull the trigger

If your scope of choice does not acomplish those two goals, you start going higher up in price until you stumble onto a product that does.  In this case, value for the money is obvious.  However, once you go higher up in price range in order to get additional features and performance, justifying that is not always straight forward.  Still, there is a reason I’ve got Leica Magnus on my 280Rem.

With precision scopes, there are additional baseline requirements, largely pertaining to the reticle and the adjustments.  However, once those are satisfied, how do you justify spending more?

Everyone does so in a different way and a lot depends on what you do with it.  For example, if you are putting your ass on the line, spend some money on reliability and track record.  The best warranty in the world is of no help if your scope craps out on you in the middle of nowhere.  Or in the middle of a competition if you are a serious competitor (that is far less traumatic than getting shot at in one of the “stans”, but still very disappointing).

However, outside of really challenging conditions and high risk situations, there is a lot to be said about mid-range scopes.  They are getting really good right now.

The stuff made in the Phillipines is maturing.  When Vortex made Gen 1 PST, it had issues, but a lot of those were resolved.  Gen 2 is much better.  Burris XTR II proved that you can have a very feature rich scope with dead nuts reliable mechanics coming out of the Phillipines.  PST Gen 2 is better optically, but not better mechanically.  It is newer though.  I am sure that Vortex is stabilizing PST Gen 2 mechanics (and the two I am looking at are very good), while I am similarly sure that Burris is plotting to improve the glass on XTR III or whatever the next one is (among other things).  Still, there is now some track record for mid-range stuff coming out of Phillipines and it is beginning to push Japanese products quite a bit.

For example, if you are in the market for a very full featured 3-15x scope for a fair price, I have a very hard time recommending anything other than PST Gen 2 3-15×44 right now.  To do noticeably better than that scope you really need to be stepping up to TT315M or something along those lines.

Athlon’s Ares is the highest end scope I have seen come out of China to date, so there is no track record to speak of.  If you buy an Ares riflescope you take a risk, but you also pay less than for the better Phillipine stuff.  The 4.5-27×50 Ares BTR I have been playing with is very good for the money, but not as good overall  as the PST Gen 2 (I have them side by side on my tripod fixture right now).  Is it worth the money? Yes, but until it has been out a little longer, I would be wary of putting it onto anything you plan to depend on.  Mind you, mine has been rock solid, but it is a sample of one.  Ares ETR that is coming out is an even more ambitious design, but if it holds up, the Phillipine-made scopes will have something to worry about.

Then there are the Japanese scopes, most of them made by LOW (except for a new Sightron that will be available mid year).  Most LOW scopes in the $1500 and up range are mechanically robust and the difference between them comes down to turrets, reticles and specific requirements from the customer.  Weirdly, the best I have seen so far from LOW in terms of optics is from a Polish company, called Delta Optical, but the rest of them are not far behind.  SigSauer’s LOW products are probably the most full-featured overall.  Vortex’ Razor Gen 2 have the best explored track record.  Athlon Cronus is probably the value leader among designs commonly available in the US.

Are these scope worth the price premium over the PST Gen 2?  Are PST Gen 2 and XTR II worth the price premium over Ares?  For that matter, are the alpha brands worth the price premium over the better Japanese scopes?

Then there are occasional products that really throw a monkey wrench into this by offering reliability and track record with fewer features (yes SWFA SS scopes, I am looking straight at you).

If I could afford it, I would have Tangent Theta or Leica Magnus on every rifle.  I can’t.

I have two rifles on which I refuse to compromise:  My primary hunting rifle (re-stocked Tikka M695 in 280Rem) has a Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 and my general purpose boltgun (Q’s Fix) has Tangent Theta TT315M.  ZCO is coming up to compete with Tangent Theta and others, but they are not here yet, so they do not enter this discussion.

I am probably going to sell my Desert Tech when I am done testing the Vortex Razor AMG I currently have on it, but the primary scope on the SRS is SWFA SS 5-20×50.  It is as reliable as anything out there and I can not afford to put a $3k scope on everything.  And it hasn’t skipped a bit on 338LM for a couple of years now.

In sub-$2k world, if I am looking for a scope with 20x or higher magnification, I think I am still going to lean toward Japanese designs.  For now.  That means, SWFA SS 5-20×50 or Delta 4.5-30×56.  Or Cronus if that reticle rocks your boat, but Delta seems better optically despite being a clearly related design.  If you can find Razor Gen 2 for that money, go for it.

In the 3-15x range, it is PST Gen 2.  That is clearly the cherry of the PST line-up.  Here, I would have a hard time justifying the cost of anything until you get to $3k and scopes that offer minimal compromises.

In the 2-10x range, it is XTR II 2-10×42.  It needs more reticles, but Burris did an exceptional job with this design.

If you want to go lower in price, you get to pick between the track record of SWFA SS 3-15x42FFP and the featureset of Athlon Ares BTR, and I can’t make that choice for you.

 Posted by at 8:32 am
Jul 082017

written by ILya Koshkin, July, 2017

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60


Lately, I’ve been looking at a few high magnification scopes and the primary reason for that was the fact that I was curious to see what is out there in the sub-$2K price range.

I have long been a fan of Sightron SIII which sorta “brought high mag to the masses” and when they introduced a considerably more expensive SV 10-50×60, my curiosity was peaked.  Then Vortex announced there Golden Eagle 15-60×52 and the guy sat Vortex said something along the lines of: “we know it is not your cup of tea, but we think you’ll be impressed”.  Then I go to SHOT and stumble onto the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60, which is the subject of this article.  It has an interesting feature where the turrets are removable and you can switch between mrad, and MOA clicks.  I was curious enough to check it out.

These are all priced a bit differently, so the comparison is not really apples-to-apples.  Hence, while I will mention how I think these all stack up, in this article I will focus on the Hawke.  Vortex and Sightron will be the subject of another piece.

Before I continue, my assumption with all of the scopes that I tested is that they are all representative of their product lines and are not outliers of some sort.  If they turn out to be outliers, I will procure another copy and retest (and update this article accordingly).


Here is the Cliff’s notes on what I think of the Hawke:

It is the least expensive workable variable scope out there that takes you up to 50x.  It stayed zeroed and adjusted accurately.  While advertised as able to focus at infinity, in practical terms, I could not get it parallax free beyond 400 yards or so, so it is not for people who shoot far away, nor does it have the adjustment range for that.  The whole removable turret business is cute, but seems to be a solution looking for a problem.  Still, if you like to switch between MOA and mrad adjustments for some reason, Hawke is the only game in town and it is a great marketing tool.  Optically, it is a nice scope, but the Sightron SIII 10-50×60 looked better to me at high magnification for not a lot more money.  They are not too far off from each other though.  I do prefer Sightron turrets though.  I liked the TMX reticle.  It is a well conceived design.  Who is it for?  Hawke is a British company with roots in the airgun world.  I think this scope is at its best for closer distance applications where you need the magnification to create very shallow depth of field, i.e. Field Target airgun competition.  It works fine for target shooting within a couple of hundred yards with firearms, but there are better options for that, I think.


Now, onto the pesky details.  Here is a comparison table for a bunch of scopes that aim at the same customer.  The scopes that I will be mentioning here and there are in bold font,

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60 Vortex Golden Eagle 15-60×52 Sightron SIII 10-50×60 Sightron SV 10-50×60 S&B

FTII 12.5-50×56 

Kahles Comp 10-50×56 Nightforce Comp 15-55×52 March 8-80×56
Length, in 18 16.1 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.9 16.2 15.74
Weight, oz 34.6 29.7 30.1 41.8 42 31.4 27.8 29.63
Main Tube Diameter 30mm 30mm 30mm 34mm 34mm 30mm 30mm 34mm
Eye Relief, in 3.7 3.9 3.8 – 4.5 3.8 – 4.5 2.75 3.74 3.15 3.4 -3.7
FOV, ft@100yards 11.7 – 2.4

6 @ 20x

6.3 – 1.7

5.1 @ 20x

9.6 – 2.2

5.5 @ 20x

9.6 – 2.2

5.5 @ 20x

12.6 – 3.3

7.38 @ 20x

8.7 – 1.8

4.5 @ 20x

6.91 – 1.83

5.03 @ 20x

13.2 – 1.3

5.2 @ 20x

Exit Pupil 3.22 – 0.87 5.24 – 1.2 4.55 – 1.18 5.4 – 1.12 3.54 – 0.93 7 – 0.7
Click Value 0.1 mrad or            ⅛ MOA  or           ¼ MOA ⅛ MOA 0.05 mrad 

or ¼MOA or ⅛MOA

0.05 mrad

or ¼MOA

0.1 mrad    or

⅛ or ¼ MOA

Adj per turn 3 mrad


3.7 MOA or

7.5 MOA

10 MOA 2.5 mrad or

10 MOA

5 mrad or

20 MOA

Adj range E: 45 MOA

(13 mrad)

W: 45 MOA

E: 55 MOA

(16 mrad)

W: 45 MOA

E: 14.5 mrad

(50 MOA)

W: 14.5 mrad

E: 20.4 mrad

(70 MOA)

W: 17.5 mrad

E: 65 MOA
W: 32 MOA
E: 55 MOA
W: 45 MOA
E: 55 MOA
W: 50 MOA
E: 60 MOA
W: 40 MOA
Close focus 10 yards 15 yards 13 yards 13 yards 7.7 yards 8 yards 25 yards 10 yards
Zero Stop No No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Reticle Illumination Yes No Optional Optional Yes No No Optional
Price $900 $1500 $1050


$2000 $3400 $2750 $2350 $2970 – $3400


As a general background statement of sorts, when we talk about variable high magnification scopes, the almost undisputed king of the hill there is March.  However, March scopes are expensive.  There are other contenders, of course, and they are pretty good, but March seems to rule the roost (I have not looked at everything in this market segment, so there may be something out there I am missing).  If I were buying a target scope and had $3k or more to spend, I’d get a March be done with it.  However, most of us do not have $3k to spare, so I was curious what else was out there. Yes, I have S&B and Kahles in the table above that are both interesting designs that bear further investigation, but from what I have seen so far, March is a better target scope and keeps improving (I really need to spend some time with the new High Master scopes).

For the last few years, in the $1k range, there was Sightron SIII and not much else.  There are some rather decent fixed power competition scopes from Leupold, Weaver and Nightforce, but for my use that is too restrictive.

Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60 undercuts Sightron SIII by a couple of hundred bucks and Sightron SV by a factor of two or so.

As far as magnification per dollar goes, Hawke does well.  Size-wise it is largely on par with the competition (it is a bit longer, but that is hardly an issue for this category).  Notably, with close focus down to 10 yards, it does a bit better than most of its competition (although Sightron offers a separate Field Target version of SIII that focuses from 7 yards to 300 yards).

Adjustment range for the Hawke is the lowest in this group and for its intended use, that is perfectly reasonable.

Field of view is a bit wider than the competition, which is nice.

As is typical for Hawke, it comes nicely packaged and with a bunch of accessories that make total sense for a Field Target shooter:

The Box with the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50x60

The Box with the Hawke Sidewinder ED 10-50×60

As soon as you open the box, you immediately see the included sunshade (a necessity), large side focus wheel, focus locator (or at least that is what I call; that is the 30mm ring that is mounted on the scope tube and has a little sharp point sticking out.  The only use for it that I can think of is to have it mounted so that the point tells you the exact position of the sidefocus wheel), and a couple of tools that make mounting the large sidefocus wheel and scope covers easier.

The included rigid scope caps did not look terribly confidence inspiring, but held up quite nicely.  I have a couple of scopes from another Chinese manufacturer and the scope caps on those seem to have a failure later of close to 50% (although the scopes themselves are pretty good).

Hawke scope caps are very functional and can be rotated to open in any direction that suits you, which is a nice touch.

As soon as I got the scope, I looked it over to make sure nothing is obviously falling off, rummaged around my workshop until I found a set of 30mm rings and headed to the range.  For the firing portion of the test, I mounted the scope onto my 308Win Mauser.  It is not a pretty looking rifle, since it was one of my original experiments in rifle building: I bought an intermediate Yugo Mauser action, a short chambered ER Shaw barrel and a Boyd’s stock.  Once all that was in hand, I bought some tools and went to town on it.  Miraculously, the rifle turned out to be fairly accurate and, similarly to most of my more recent and higher quality acquisitions, the limiting factor is probably not the gun, but rather the nut behind the bolt, so to speak.

Mounted on a 308Win Mauser

Mounted on a 308Win Mauser

Honestly, the biggest reason I picked this rifle to do the testing was the simple fact that I ran out of taller rings and the Farrell base on the Mauser is pretty tall.  The only unused rings I had at the moment were the inexpensive Weavers that were low in height.  Since the Hawke has a 60mm objective lens, I needed a rifle with a tall base.

Sighting in was rather uneventful.  The scope I tested came with turrets that had 0.1 mrad clicks and the TMX reticle is mrad accurate at 20x.  I set the target up at 50 yards, fired a shot, measured the offset with the reticle, adjusted to have the POI about half of an inch below center and fired another shot. Then, I moved the target over to 100 yards and fired a ten shot group to see if the scope is holding zero and to get a reasonable idea of where the centroid was.

While the barrel was cooling off, I started getting early signs of odd parallax troubles.  The range where I do most of my shooting has metal plates out to 600 yards, so I spent some time messing with the side focus knob at different distances.  I could not get it to be parallax free at 600 for the life of me, so that made me pay attention.  I carefully re-focused the eyepiece and experimented with parallax again.  Same basic story: I can get the scope to be parallax free at 400 and closer.  At 500, it is almost there, but not quite.  At 600, parallax is obvious and I can not dial it out.

I left it at that and did my usual tracking test for the elevation turret (I do not usually do much with the windage turret beyond making sure it does not affect the elevation adjustment).  For this test, I fire a shot at a zero setting, then go up 1 mrad and fire a shot.  Then back to zero for one shot and up 2 mrad for a shot.  Then back to zero and so on.

This takes a little time and ammo, but is worthwhile.  The tracking seemed decent, but I did not test over a particularly large range of adjustment.  With 3 mrad per turn and no zero stop, I am going to go out on a limb and say this was not designed to dial many turns.  Besides, there were parallax issues at longer distances anyway.

The turrets themselves are interesting.  As I mentioned earlier, they come off which I found to be a little unnatural.  I have seen scopes where after dialing your correction you can accidentally end up with the turret in your hand, detached from the scope.  Usually, that is not a good thing.  With the Hawke, you can do that by design.

Removable turret

Removable turret

The threads that hold the turret to the scope are on the inside of that metal ring at the base of the turret.  There is some spring tension involved, so mounting that turret back on without bungling up the threads took a little practice.  At the top of the turret is the locking knob, so if you choose to have one or both turrets locked down for transportation or as a matter of preference, it is there.  Given an opportunity, I usually lock the windage turret, which I did for most of the testing.




The available turrets have 0.1 mrad or ¼ MOA or ⅛ MOA clicks.  Best I can tell, whichever turrets you go with, you get 30 clicks per turn.  The clicks are widely spaced and reasonably tactile.  There is some slop in the turret, but it is well within one click, so it does not get in the way too much.  I suspect the reason the clicks are so widely spaced is to allow for a tolerance build up that comes with removable turrets.  The downside of that, is that competing designs offer quite a few more clicks per turn, which translates into either much finer granularity or greater adjustment in a single turn.

For example, Hawke’s most direct competitor, SIghtron SIII, has 0.05 mrad clicks in a 2.5mrad per turn turret, which amounts to 50 clicks per turn.  MOA version of the Sightron has 80 clicks per turn for ⅛ MOA turret or 40 clicks per turn for ¼ MOA turret.  You can kinda pick your poison there and since the turrets are not interchangeable, the number of clicks per turn is different for different models.  I am mostly a mrad user, so I stick with those versions.

From that standpoint, while interchangeable turrets are a curiosity item for me, I can’t quite think of a situation where I would want to switch from mrad to MOA turrets.  For someone who wants to use a TMX reticle interchangeable as mrad or MOA design at different magnifications, perhaps this makes sense.

I spent a couple more days at the range with this scope sitting on the same rifle.  Beyond the previously mentioned parallax concerns, there were no issues.

The rest of the testing was done from my house’s upper deck.  I have an old astronomy tripod base to which I hooked up a precision tilt stage from Newport.  On top of the tilt stage is a picatinny rail, so I can mount a scope on it and check its adjustments against the tilt stages micrometer.  The micrometer resolves down to ~0.01 mrad which is comfortably better than any riflescope I know of.

Scope on a tilt stage

Scope on a tilt stage


There is a catholic church a bit over 740 yards from my house and I frequently use the cross on the top of its tower as an aiming point (to add a disclaimer that should be obvious to anyone who has not gone to law school: when I am a riflescope at a church, it is not sitting on a gun.  I do not aim guns at churches.  A riflescope is mounted directly onto a tripod for this as in the picture above).  

What I see through a riflescope is usually something like this:

Through the scope

Through the scope


The house behind it is a bit over a mile away.  In the case of the Hawke, since I could not dial out parallax at that distance, I had to look for something within a couple of hundred yards to do another tracking test.  That tracking test worked well, but there was a slight amount of hysteresis in the adjustment turrets and in the sidefocus knob.

The reticle is a very thin design with a good variety of hold points without making it look like a mosquito net.  The dimensions are accurate at 20x.  Since the reticle is in the second focal plane, you have to keep track of what magnification you are at.  If you want to use this reticle as a MOA-accurate variant, you can calculate at which magnification you need to be and then verify it with field use.  To map 0.5 mrad dimension into 1MOA, you need to be somewhere near 34x magnification.  So this would be a situation where you want to have matching reticle and turrets at a higher mag: pop on your ⅛ MOA turrets and dial up to 34x or so.  If this sounds like I am trying very hard to find a marginally viable use case for interchangeable turrets…  well, that is exactly what I am doing and I am struggling with it a little.

Reticle illumination while not strictly speaking a necessary feature for target shooting is a nice thing to have and Hawke’s implementation is done well.  It is primarily designed to help in low light situations and can be set sufficiently low to not disturb your night vision.

TMX Reticle

TMX Reticle


As far as optical quality goes, for the most part, I was fairly pleased with what this scope offers.  I am pretty certain, that this is the best high magnification performance of any Chinese-made riflescopes I have seen to date.  The image remains fairly clear out to about 35x or so.  Going higher, you lose some image fidelity, but it is still reasonable.  Chromatic aberration is kept under reasonable control (ED glass undoubtedly helps) and, in that regard, it is slightly better than the Sightron SIII, but slightly worse than Sightron SV.  

Where the Sidewinder ED struggles is with stray light control and that is the biggest reason why in terms of overall image quality, SIII edges ahead of it a little bit.  The Hawke scope really benefitted from the sunshade.  Most scopes do, but with Sidewinder ED, it was a pretty significant difference.  When I tried a makeshift aperture reducer, the difference was even more drastic.

Aside from that, the scope resolved well and maintained decent contrast through the lower half of the magnification range.  Going higher in magnification started draining the image of color (this is likely related to stray light control I mentioned above).

Low light performance was quite good as you would expect given a 60mm objective.  Naturally, you have to keep it at the magnification level fairly low to get a reasonable exit pupil.  Hawke ED maintained good contrast levels down into pretty low light levels, but once there were bright sources involved, it did not handle flare terribly well.  There was some veiling flare which is pretty common with larger objective scopes, and other random stray light issues.  Similarly to day light testing, reduced aperture helped with that, but reduced the exit pupil which is not great for low light.

A final question to answer is pretty simple: given what is out there at the moment, would I buy this scope for my personal use?  No, I would not.  Would I recommend it to others? Yes, with a few disclaimers.

This scope simply does not seem to be designed for my use case.  I do not do short distance target shooting or Field Target.  At longer distances, it simply does not work well due to limited adjustment range and parallax limitations. Besides, removable turrets, while cleverly done, do not do anything for me.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if I were shopping for a high magnification scope, I would likely shop in a different price range.  Had you asked me six months ago, I would have told you that ponying up for a March, while painful, is the only way to go.

If someone asks me about a high magnification scope, March is still king, but for my money, I would likely get Vortex Golden Eagle.

In the sub-$1k range, it comes down to Hawke and Sightron S3.  Both have a lot to recommend them and, honestly, this level of performance at this price range in variable scopes would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Lastly, if I were in hawke’s shoes, I would consider bundling an aperture reducer with this scope and looking into parallax issues.  I think they can do quite well with centerfire shooters if they do that.  Revisiting internal baffling may not be a bad idea either.

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Feb 182017

Continuing where I left off in Part 1



I think Vortex is one of the more a forward looking companies in this business and the pace with which they have been growing is pretty impressive.  I think their product strategy for a bit looked somewhat like a shotgun blast: fire off  a bunch of new products at the market and see what sticks.  It worked adequately and they came up with a good product range, but thankfully, it looks like they are moving past.  Their product line-up looks reasonably coherent and logical to me, except for a few outliers.  I wonder if those will develop into separate product lines or remain single product experiments.   Vortex has converged on four discreet quality levels for their products: Razor (made in Japan and/or USA), Viper (made in Phillipines), Diamondback (made in Phillipines) and Crossfire (made in China).  For conventional riflescopes, this gradation stays consistent for both tactical and hunting products and for all four product levels, Vortex offers very compelling alternatives to other brands.  With riflescopes, the outliers are Golden Eagle target scope and Strike Eagle low range variable.  These are very different kinds of eagles with the Golden Eagle being more or less at the Razor-level of performance, while the Strike Eagle is a “me too” OEM product.  I am a little surprised they didn’t call the Golden Eagle “Razor F-Class” and be done with it, so I wonder if it will spawn another product family.  With red dots, the naming is sorta all over the place, but it almost seem like they are beginning to clean that up as well.  There is a pretty nice Razor reflex sight and a new Razor AMG UH-1 holographic sight that sit at the top of Vortex’s non-magnified sight line-up.  With the tube-style red dot sights, the original Strikefire is still there and somewhat more recent Sparc and Sparc AR.  All are pretty compelling products for their price ranges, although I will freeley admit to liking Sparc AR a lot more than the other two.  With compact reflex sights, in addition to the previously mentioned Razor, there are the Venom and Viper.  They cost about the same, but use different batteries,  Venom has a top loading battery and slightly larger lens.  Viper needs to be removed from its mount to change the battery, which may effect zero.  I do not fully understand why I would choose one over the other (in my case, why I would choose Viper over Venom), so I am curious to see how Vortex will work this out.  Lastly, there are the Spitfire prism sights.  I am not sure where they fit in the Razor-Viper-Diamondback-Crossfire continuum.

Razor AMG UH-1

Razor AMG UH-1

Generally, with Razor products, the only new offering is a very interesting looking holographic sight. I liked what I saw and I plan to test one.  This is an interesting time to take on EOtech and I think Vortex will do well with this one.  The optical design looks to be a little simpler from alignment standpoint than EOtech, so I do not expect it to have thermal stability issues.  Controls are pretty straightforward with two pushbuttons on the back of the sight.

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

UH-1 with VMX3 magnifier

I am a bit mixed on that since accessing them when used with a magnifier could be a bit difficult.  Generally, magnifier use is one of the advantages holographic sights have over reflex style red dots, so I spent some time trying to convince Vortex to make a high quality magnifier for the UH-1.  We’ll see if they do it.  They did have the UH-1 set up with the VMX3 magnifier (which I just tested with Sparc AR) and while it is a very respectable magnifier and good for the money, I do not think it is quite good enough for the UH-1.  However, in the picture to the left, you can see how accessing the controls could be a bit problematic.  Lastly, since all holographic sights have a significant battery life disadvantage compared to reflex sights, I was happy to see a rechargeable battery option.

The rest of the Razor line is unchanged for now and, honestly, that is a good thing.  These are excellent scopes.  Razor HD LH has become my go to recommendation for hunting scopes (I think they will adda model or two to it next year) and Razor AMG is still almost impossible to get due to all the backorders.  Razor Gen II in the meantime soldiers on as one of the more compelling general purpose precision scopes out there.  I think the decision to round out the Razor line-up with an American-made quick acquisition sight is a good one.  Aside from that, the Razor HD spotters are new(ish) and I am testing the 65mm model.  It is very good.

PST Gen 2 3-15x44 and 1-5x24

PST Gen 2 3-15×44 and 1-5×24

Viper product family probably had the biggest splash in the Vortex booth this year, since the PST riflescopes were redesigned.  They are still made in the Phillipines, but by a different maker.  The new models are 1-5×24, 2-10×32, 3-15×44 and 5-25×50.  They all sport a new larger eyepiece and they are a bit heavier than their predecessors.  1-5×24 is a SFP model only, while the others are available as both FFP and SFP.  The reticles are well conceived and are generally similar to those in the Razor scopes, so someone who uses a Razor on a primary rifle can put a new PST onto a trainer and feel right at home.  The three higher magnification scopes now sport a proper zero stop similar in operation to Gen 1 Razor.  They seemed like well designed scopes at SHOT and I suspect they will be a meaningful improvement over the original PST.  The big question, of course, is whether they will compete well against all the scopes that were designed to compete against he original PSTs.  That question I can not easily answer without doing a proper test.  The Gen 2 PSTs run between $700 and $1100 depending on the model, so they are a bit more expensive than the original ones and go head to head against Burris XTR II and a few others, most notably Athlon Ares and Midas (2.5-15×50 and 4.5-27×50), as well as Hi-Lux Phenom HD 6-30×56 and PentaLux 4-20×50.  There are others, of course, but one of the things I am really curious about is whether the better-made Chinese scopes from Athlon and Hi-Lux can compete adequately well (and consistently enough) against the better-made Phillipine scopes like the PST Gen II and XTR II.  Once I work that out, the next question will be how well they stack up against Japanese competition like Sightron S3 and some of the US competition like Leupold VX3i LRP.  Basically, I am going to have a lot of fun with this, since this is the price range I want to look at this year.

Among the PST Gen 2 scopes, the 3-15×44 and 1-5×24 seemed to be the best ones of the bunch based on a rather cursory look, so I will start with the 3-15×44.  Interestingly, with the original PSTs, the 2.5-10×32 was the best optimized model, followed by the 6-24×50, while the 2.5-10×44 was the runt of the litter.  We’ll see if my original impressions of the Gen 2 are correct.

Rounding out the Vortex news, they introduced a tactilized version of the Diamondback with a ranging reticle and exposed turrets.  I like Diamondback scopes, but unless there is a lot of interest I will likely skip this one over: it only comes with MOA turrets and I really prefer mrad.

Lastly, Vortex now has a rangefinding binocular called Fury HD.  I wasn’t terribly impressed with how it looked, but then again, at around $1200, it is about half the price of the LRF binos I like.  In other words, as far as LRF binoculars go, I am both spoiled and picky.  I will look at it if time allows, but I have a suspicion that these will be difficult to come by for a bit, so a test may have to wait.


Hi-Lux Precision Optics

I know these guys pretty well, since I have been talking to them on and off for some years.  The first of their product I looked at many years ago was not great and I was not kind to it.  Rather than getting all poochy-faced about, the guys at Hi-Lux took it as constructive criticism and got better.  The next scope of theirs I looked at was the original 7-30×50 Uni-Dial with an elevation turret that allows to set flags for different distances (they have a patent on this and I am moderately certain that some other people who use this approach pay them licensing fees).  That scope was not a world beater either, but it stayed zeroed and adjusted true.  Some things on it were a bit crude, but it was ultimately a very usable design and I said exactly that.  A bit more time passed and Hi-Lux introduced their CMR and CMR4 scopes, which are generally good and absolutely superb for the money.  These scopes easily landed on my list of recommendations and I spent a fair amount of time and effort beating them up.  They kept working and working well.  Most importantly, they did well for Hi-Lux so there are enough of these out there to give me confidence that Hi-Lux can build these consistently.  Unlike most other companies who make optics in China, Hi-Lux has their own factory, so they control the manufacturing process.  As they continue moving toward more sophisticated designs, I’ve been sorta keeping tabs on what they do and it sounds like this year they have a bunch of new stuff that is of interest to me:

-CMR8 1-8×26 FFP with 34mm tube

-new Uni-Dial 5-30×56 SFP with a 34mm tube (successor to the original Uni-Dial I tested so many years ago)

-Phenom HD 5-30×56 FFP with a 34mm tube

-PentaLux 4-20×50 FFP or SFP with a 30mm tube

-CMR4-based 1-4x34AO Competition scope since you can now use optics for servie rifle competition

-8×42 and 10×42 binoculars with field flattener lenses

All of these will be in the $500 to $900 range, which makes them fairly accessible.

Hi-Lux makes a lot of other stuff as well, but most of it has been around for a bit and I do not have enough time to look at everything.  I will, however, mention the MM2 (Micro-Max 2) red dot sight that I have failed to break for a number of months now.  It is probably my favourite of the sub-$300 tube-style red dot sights (and is one of the reasons I have not bought an MRO).

The new CMR8 is of particular interest to me since late last year, Hi-Lux asked for some ideas on a reticle for the CMR8.  They already had a very nicely executed internal design, but they wanted another option.  I am perpetually dissatisfied with most of the reticles out there, this was an opportunity for me to try a design that I like.  I suggested a few things and they implemented most of them and added a couple of other things that appealed to them.  I will talk a bit more about this reticle in future articles.  At SHOT was the first time I saw it live and I think it is going to work well for my purposes.  I took a couple of blurry handheld pictures at 1x and at 8x, so you can see what it looks like.  I will do better photography when the first production scopes get here.

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 8x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

CMR8 reticle at 1x

My basic design concept was to have a large out horseshow that is outside the FOV at 8x, but salmost serves a ghost ring at 1x. At 8x, the smaller 10 mrad horseshow is the dominant feature designed to draw the eye to its center where there is a mil-scale and a small mrad-grid array that serves as elevation, wind and lead holds for typical 5.56, 6.5Grendel or 7.62×51 load out to 500-600 yards without the need to twist the turrets.  The grid can also be used for quick rangefinding which I will cover in more detail later.  However, the primary rangefinding features are the choke style rangefinders for both horizontal and vertical targets 1m and 1.75m in size.



Aside from the reticle, the scope looked pretty well executed, but I will reserve judgement until I get a production unit and properly test it. The turrets are easily finger-adjustable with 0.1 mrad clicks.  You can keep them exposed without any undue effects, but I prefer to run scopes like this type primarily with the reticle, so the included turret covers suit me well.  The illumination starts at a couple of night vision compatible settings one one end and gets pretty bright on the other end.  I am not convinced it will be day bright at 1x, but the reticle is designed to be very visible regardless.  I will work it out for a range of lighting conditions once it gets here.  Overall, the scope is fairly compact at only 10″ of length and at 22 ounces is not overly heavy for a 1-8x design.  Field of view looks to be impressively wide and eye relief is longer than on the CMR4.

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

Hi-Lux Uni-Dial

The new Uni-Dial seems to be a new design and since I liked those programmable turrets originally, I will definitely test this one as well.  The turrets seemed to have decent feel and tool-less reset.  These days, many companies offer custom engraved turrets for their scopes.  Uni-dial’s customizable nature approaches the same problem from a different angle.  I suspect that the new Uni-Dial and Phenom HD are related design differing in reticle location and perhaps a few other design specifics and aesthetic features.

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

Hi-Lux Phenom HD 5-30x56FFP

The turrets are clearly different between the two with the Phenom being ore of a traditional precision scope design with knurled exposed turrets.  Both offer a removable cat-tail for quick magnification adjsutments.  The FFP reticle in the Phenom is a mil-grid style (along the same lines as Sig’s DEV-L, some Horus designs and many others) and generally this scope’s feature set is pretty ambitious.  I think the Phenom and Uni-Dial will be the first of Hi-Lux’s new scopes I look at.  With the CMR8 and the new competition scope following suite in late spring some time.  As I mentioned earlier, between Hi-Lux and Athlon it looks like Chinese-made designs are really coming of age.  Hi-Lux’s Phenom HD and CMR8 are ambitious designs, but if they are executed well could be a pretty major deal simply because of their sub-$1k price.

CMR4-based service rifle scope

CMR4-based service rifle scope

The CMR4-based competition scope is fundamentally a direct response to the change in the service rifle competition rules that now allow magnified optics of no more than 4.5x of magnification and no more than 34mm objective.  Bother March and Nightforce came out with scope specific for this competition, but both are expensive at $1900 for the Nightforce and well over $2k for March.  I am sure they are exceptional, but I was curious to see what will be out there that is a bit more affordable.  Well, this is an interesting design that will be far cheaper.  Best I can tell, it is the regular CMR4 with the objective lens bumped up to 34mm and adjustable configuration to dial out parallax.  The reticle is a fairly clean MOA-based design.  Now that the rules allow for optics, I have been thinking about trying the service rifle competition.  My original plan was to simply use my Elcan Spectre OS, but perhaps I will experiment with this one as well.  Honestly, I think it is a clever way to quickly get a product to market using a proven platform.  Similarly importantly, this is probably the largest objective for a low range variable scope out there.  I am very curious to see how it does.  At 4x, with a 34mm objective, this scope should have far better low light performance than most similar low range variable designs.  While Hi-Lux was thinking of service rifle competition when they came up with this, I can think of a variety of other applications where it can do well.

Sig-Sauer Electro-Optics

I would like to start this with a formal complaint:  I take my sweet time when I test precision riflescopes.  After months of messing with it, I finally concluded that I really like Sig’s Tango6 scopes.  Naturally, Sig responded by introducing an entirely new Tango6 line-up.  The 1-6×24 is not too different, except the tall turrets I did not like are gone, replaced with covered low and wide knobs.  It is also the only one with a 30mm tube.  The rest are 34mm.

New Tango 6 3-18x44

New Tango 6 3-18×44

The 3-18×44 got much shorter and noticeably fatter.  It is now about the same length as the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44, but a lot heavier.  4-24×50 is new, while the 5-60×56 appears to be similar to other designs coming from the same OEM (you all know who this is, but Tango6’s product manager seemed sensitive to this, so I won’t say it out loud).  Other than the 1-6x, they all have 120 clicks per turn turrets (i.e. 12 mrad for me or some irrelevant number of MOA for the unholy MOA shooters out there…) that also have zero stop and locking capability (pull-up to unlokc, press down to lock).  The 1-6×24 might also have that many clicks, but I did not check.  The turret on the 1-6×24 is now eerily similar to the Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 1-6×24.  I like all of these new turrets.  The feel was good and the feature set is very rich.  There is now an electronic level and, importantly for me, there is now a mil-grid Christmas tree stile reticle called DEV-L.  For me, that is a big deal.  The electronic level has two indicators that appear to be in the reticle plane, that light up when the scope is not level.  They eat a little into the FOV, so I am trying to decide what I care about more: FOV or electronic level.  I asked Sig to keep me in mind when the 4-24×50 shows up.  While in principle a 3-18×44 is more up my alley, the 4-24×50 is only 3 ounces heavier, so I figured I would rather look at that model.

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Sig Whiskey5 scopes

Whiskey 5 scopes have gone through an update as well.  These are Japan-made hunting scopes that are now black in color (apparently the hunting crowd objected to greyish bodies).  They also gain the previously mentioned electronic level.  They look like fairly well worked out hunting scopes.

Other riflescope product lines (Tango4 and Whiskey3) look to be reasonably unchanged.

Sig’s excellent LRFs get an upgrade in the form of Kilo2200 and Kilo2400.  Kilo2200 looks like its predecessor, but get a little more range.  Kilo2400 doubles the price tag and adds a sophisticated ballistic calculator and a wind meter that plugs into your smartphone.  Essentially, it is an attempt tog et rid of the Kestrel.  I do not spend a whole lot of time looking at LRFs, but this got my interest.

Aside from that, Sig has a new full size red dot sight called Romeo6 that is apparently assembled in the US.  It looks like a nice sight, but full-size red dots are not my cup of tea.  It does have a solar battery, which I like (I just tested solar powered compact Romeo4).  What did peak my interest was the Juliet4 4x magnifier.  However, it seemed like it was a rather early prototype.  There are not that many truly high quality magnifiers out there, so I am very curious to see what Sig came up with.

 Posted by at 10:40 pm
Feb 072017

Just like the videos (here), this is going to be long and laborious.  If you manage to make your way through this whole thing, pour yourself a nice bourbon.  Personally, I am starting with the bourbon now, as I write this.  I suspect, it will be a living document for a few days (so Scotch and Rum might be involved in some stages of this creative process).

Docter Optics

DocterSight G

I liked the DocterSight III quite a bit, so I made sure I visit Docter Optics at SHOT.  They are now owned by a company called Noblex.  I am not sure what that means for Docter, but I hope that means more funding for R&D and increased marketing reach.  Docter is one of those German companies that I can never quite figure out like Kaps or Nickel.  I know Docter has an arm that deals with the military side of things since I have run into theei US arm in the past.  In the commercial world, Docter has a fairly complete line of hunting scope and a few offerings intended for some sort of competition use.  I am not up to speed on the types of competitions that exist in Europe, but it sounds like a low range variable scope with a simple dot reticle and bright illumination is just the ticket for that.  Aside from that, these all look like very solid scopes with the V6 line standing out to me as the more modern offerings that probably go head to head price-wise against Meopta’s MeoStar R2 line, the new Leupold VX-6HD and a few others.  I honestly do not know where these sit quality wise, but they looked pretty good offhand, so I will make sure I look at one.  I think the V6 2-12×50 will be an interesting design to mount on my 280Rem and test.  It looks like it only comes with the #4 reticle which I happen to like, but the illumination system looks to be exceptionally well worked out.  There are quite a few other magnified scopes in the Docter line-up (some come with intersting colors…), but I have to start somewhere and I think I will start with the V6.

I think these are Cerakoted...

I think these are Cerakoted…

On the red dot sight, they have a couple of products that got my interest.  The new DocterSight G is the next evolution of their miniature reflex sight, but with a much larger lens, so I expect it to be notably quicker to pick up.  It will also have manual intensity adjustment.  I expect it to land on our shores toward the end of the year and I will test it then.  Quicksight, is on the other end of the spectrum: it is a freakishly small reflex sight intended for shotguns.

Docter Optics QuickSight

Docter Optics QuickSight

It has a different construction which allows it to have a very low axis.   The construction uses some sort of a prism to redirect the projected dot, so the LED can be set underneath the lens.  That way the body you can see to the right of the lens is basically just a battery compartment.  Vertically, the sight is extremely short and low profile.  Looking it over, I did not see any means of adjusting POA, so I suspect that on shotguns, it clips to the top rib of the barrel and is considered to be more or less sighted in by design.  I would like to test that theory.

In short, I see some things at Docter that are very traditional and some are pretty innovative.


Janz Revolvers

They were right next to Docter and the revolver there looked very cool with interchangeable barrels, cylinders, etc.  Once I learned that these start at around $6k, I walked away, but not before taking a couple of pictures.



The whole kit.

The whole kit.



EOTech had some reasonably well publicised issues involving their holographic sights which tarnished both the company and product in many ways.  Beyond this acknowledgement, I will pretty much ignore all of that sordid history and focus on the new products.  New products in question are Vudu riflescopes.  Finally, EOTech offers a line of proper magnified sights and they seem to be pretty decent magnified sights.  What I am not entirely sure of, is whether they are sufficiently differentiated from everybody else on the market who uses LOW’s OEM designs.  What I do not know is whether EOTech has made any modification to these LOW designs outside of their own reticles and external cosmetics.  The EOTech person I talked to said there was some additional customization, but I do not have an easy way to verify that.  There are four riflescopes in the Vudu product line: 1-6×24, 2.5-10×44, 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×56.  There are some discrepancies between the brochures I picked up at SHOT and the information on the website, but best I can tell, 1-6×24 and 2.5-10×44 are available as FFP models only, while 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×50 are available in both FFP and SFP configuration.

EOTech Vudu 1-6x24

EOTech Vudu 1-6×24

The two reticles available in the 1-6×24 both built on the original circle-dot theme of the HWS.  There is a 65 MOA circle that makes for a very quick CQB aiming point.  However at 6x, it disappears outside the FOV and whatever is in the center of the reticle can be used for more precise shots.  There you have an option of either a mil-scale or a horseshoe with caliber specific holdovers for either 5.56 or 7.62.

The reticles in the other scopes are fairly simple designs that look a little bit like Gen 2 MilDot (or Sig’s milling reticle) and are available in two versions: mrad-based and MOA-based.  They look like perfectly respectable reticles, but I am surprised EOTech is not offering something along the lines of a Christmas tree or grid style reticle.  I could have sworn I saw mention of H59 somewhere in the past, but I can’t find it anywhere now.  Honestly, I think that is an oversight.   I am curious to see how these scopes will do, so I sent an e-mail to the gentleman I talked to at SHOT to see if they are willing to lend me one to play with.  The model I am most interested in is the 2.5-10×44.  It is a very underlooked configuration and there are very few of these in FFP form.  My plan is to compare it to US Optics B-10 1.8-10×42.

EOTech Vudu riflescopes and Q's

EOTech Vudu riflescopes and Q’s “The Fix” rifles

Oddly enough an item that caused a lot of interest in the EOTech booth was the rifle that a couple of the scopes were mounted on.  The rifle in question is called “The Fix” by Q LLC.  Best I can tell, Q employs a bunch of people that used to work at Sig and AAC.  I am not sure if either one of those companies has a financial interest in Q and do not particularly care.  The rifles were interesting and, unlike most modern chassis-style rifles, quite light.  I made a mental note to look them up and I did. And then I pre-ordered one.  I like the idea of huting with the same gun I use for precision shooting and my Desert Tech is a bit too heavy for that.  The Fix with a 16″ 308Win barrel weights right around 6lbs and takes a regualr LR-308 magazine that costs abotu $20.  A Desert Tech Covert with a 16″ 308WIn barrel weighs around 10lbs and the magazines are $100 each.  Desert Tech is probably a better precision platform.  I like the bullpup configuration and its weight distribution, I like the quick change barrels.  However, if I wanted to buy a Covert to add to me Gen 1 Desert Tech SRS, I’d be out around $5500.  The Fix is $2800 and weights four pounds less.  If it proves accurate enough for my needs, I’ll have to pull off some sort of a miracle of self-persuasion to keep my old SRS.  Ultimately, that will become the question of how much I want to keep my 338LM.


Nightforce Optics

There were two fairly new things at Nightforce booth this year: ATACR F1 7-35×56 and SR-1 Competition 4.5×24 scope.  Both were announced a bit before SHOT, but that was the first time I got to see them.  The little 4.5×24 looked mighty appealing to me (I like compact fixed power scopes, probably owing to how much time I have spent with various Mosin PU scopes) until I figured out that it costs right around $1900.  I will freely admit that it looks like a very well optimized scope and I am sure it will do well with service rifle competitors, but I am having a hard time justifying that cost for a fixed power scope.  Then again, I am not a service rifle competitor, so I might be missing something.  Also, it is cheaper than the March 1-4.5×24 that is also new this year.  On the other side of the spectrum the FFP 7-35×56 ATACR is intended for a very different audience and I suspect it will do very well with precision rifle shooters.  It is pretty expensive at right around $3500, but that is more or less in line with the competition, although in all fairness, if you want more than 30x in a FFP scope there isn’t that much competion out there.  S&B 5-45×56 is close to $5k.  March 5-40×56 is probably the closest and it costs about the same.  There were two 7-35x56s sitting in the Nightforce booth and one looked excellent while the other seemed a little iffy.  I am guessing these were prototypes of some sort, but in the meantime I asked Nightforce to send me one of these for T&E.  I really liked the 4-16×42 ATACR F1, so my expectations for the 7-35×56 are pretty high.  I have not shot my 338LM in a little bit.  This will be a good opportunity to do so.


The big recent news with Trijicon is their acquisition of IR Hunter.  That was a shrewd move on their part.  In my opinon these are the best engineered of the commercially available thermal sights.  Now, with Trijicon’s marketing muscle behind them, we will likely see them get a bit more traction.  The first obvious effect though is that the price has gone up…  Now, in principle, Trijicon has something to offer regardless of the type of a weapon sight you are looking for.  Between RMR and MRO the have some of the better red dot sights on the market.  ACOGs and Compact ACOGs continue to do well (although some could models stand a refresh).  Accupoint and Accupower cover conventional riflescopes fairly well, while TARS serves the precision market (not sure how much impact it has had).

Trijicon MRO

Trijicon MRO

On the non-thermal side of things there is a new version of the MRO called “patrol” or something along those lines, which is the original MRO with a different mount and some accessories.  I really like the MRO and prefer it over the Aimpoint Micro, and the new mount is a solid improvement.  THe top mounted control dial is much easier for me to use with either hand than most other arrangements.  As far as small tubualr red dot sights go, I sorta settled on the MRO is being my overall favourite with Hi-Lux MM2 being the bang for the buck champ.


There is also a new Accupower, and it is an interesting design being a FFP 1-8×28.

Trijicon 1-8x28

Trijicon 1-8×28

A slightly larger than the more common 24mm objective might make a difference at 8x.  Aside from that, it looks suspiciously similar to the 1-8×24 design that Light Optical Works from Japan makes for a bunch of other people.  That is not a bad thing since this is a very respectable design, but I am not really sure what changes Trijicon has introduced other than a slight bump in objective diameter.  The reticles are simple and fairly effective designs: broken circle and a ranging scale.  There are two versions, one with mrad scale and another with MOA scale.

I have mixed feelings about broken circle designs.  They work adequately well, but a solid circle or a solid horseshoe is, I think a better option.    One other nice feature thing is a removable cat tail.

I asked Trijicon who I should talk to if I want to borrow one of these for T&E, and they gave me a business card for a gentleman named Eddie Stevenson who is the President of Driftwood Media.  Apparently, that is Trijicon’s PR firm.  I reached out to Eddie and got a fairly quick reply politely asking who I am.  I told him what I do here and never heard back from him.  He is either really busy, or he deemed that I am not worthy of testing the new Trijicon.  I might still borrow one from one of my dealer/distributor friends, but that sorta depends on how busy I am in this coming year.  In years past, I tried to get my hands on every new scope in some manner, but that was before I was married and with kids.  Nowadays, I follow the path of least resistance: I figure out what I want to compare, reach out to the makers and spend whatever time I have on the actual testing process.  If I have to spend time chasing after a manufacturer or, in this case, a PR firm, that’s basically a non-starter for me.  Most of the time, that means they will not deal with writers whose opinion they can not easily influence (via advertising revenue or other means), and I do not feel like delving into figuring this out.

Juggernaut Tactical

I had never heard of Juggernaut Tactical before, although they, like me, live behind enemy lines (in California) and have to comply with California insane laws.

JT CA-compliant Stock for AR-type rifles

JT’s CA-compliant Stock for AR-type rifles

They make a lot of miscellaneous parts for semiauto rifles including a bullpup chassis for M1A and a bunch of other things.  What attracted my interest was there CA-compliant AR stock.  It replaces the buffer tube and provides a pretty good way to make a “featureless” CA-compliant AR-15 or LR-308.  Interestingly, the part of the buttstock that replaces the buffer tube is apparently three times thicker and it feels exceptionally sturdy.  They also tell me, it gets rif of that annoying twang sound AR buffer tubes make.  It comes with an extended takedown pin that serves as a thumb rest and still allows yo to use your original pistol grip (except you cant wrap you thumb around it).  The length of pull was about right for me, and I think it will serve well on my LR-308 when it finally comes out.


I always stop by the Kel-tec booth to see what they have that is new.  They are an innovative company that really needs more manufacturing capacity.  What has a really got my interest lately with Kel-tec is their RDB-C rifle.  It is a semi-automatic bullpup rifle that does not have a pistol grip.  What it does have is a very respectable trigger.  Since there is no pistol grip, it should be allowed in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia.  It was surprisingly comfortable to hold and when equipped with a 20″ barrel, the overall length is just over 30″.  If they actually make it, they will have the bulk of the California market to themselves.  They have a 5.56 variant and they are working on a 6.5Grendel one.  I will buy both when available.

US Optics

I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with US Optics.  I like a lot about this company, but for a little bit I thought that the market has sorta passed them buy.  They did not have a whole lot of new development (they did have some with low range variables) and while I am a big fan of the EREK knob, I do not like the low magnification tunneling and I did not like how much their scopes cost.  This year, they’ve got the new B-series scopes which are newer iterations of the original 1.8-10x, 3.2x-17 and 5-25 designs called B-10, B-17 and B-25 respectively.  They told me that there were some changes in the system that helped with the tunneling and the turret box was redesigned a bit to be more streamlined.  The tunneling is still there, but looks less pronounced.  The elevation turret is still excellent, and, very importantly, the pricing is a bit more reasonable, at least for the B-10 which lists somewhere around $1700.  B-17 and B-25 list at $2300 and $3300 respectively.   B-10 is the one that I would like to look at.  It is reasonably compact and I really want to give the new turrets a workout with the new zero stop design, tool-less zero, etc.  I glanced at their website and it looks like they are still making changes to it.  At the moment they’ve got some rather questionable product categories there, but I will reserve judgement until it is all updated.

Shield Sights

This is a British company I stumbled onto purely by accident.  Apparently, they make Jpoint and have, in the past made a bunch of miniature reflex sights for others, like Trijicon.  They are now marketing their sights under their own brand and best I can tell, they have been in use by British military for quite some time.  There is a rumor floating around that their rifle sight (either SQS or SIS, I guess) proved to be more reliable than Aimpoint Micro in some British trials.  If true, that is pretty impressive.  Aimpoint Micro is a nice sight.  Shield currently has for reflex sights in their product line.  The original miniature reflex sight is called SMS (Shield Mini Sight) is what you get if you order a Jpoint and a few other sights.  Best I can tell, this is the only one that Shield OEMs for others.  The other models are RMS (Reflex Mini Sight), CQS (Close Quarter Sportsight) and  SIS (Switchable Interface Sight).

Shield SIS

The SIS feature list, interestingly, enough, looks like someone reached into my notes and made a carbine/backup sight based on them: it has three auto adjust modes and a manual adjust mode, it has four reticles you can switch between (8MOA dot, 4MOA dot, 1MOA dot with a 65MOA ring made out of 12 dots, and SIS 2MOA bullet drop).  It also looks pretty indestructible and very compact.  The SIS 2MOA bullet drop reticle is unique to the SIS, while the other four reticle are available in the other sights as well.


1MOA with 65MAO circle reticle


CQS looks pretty similar to the SIS, so I am assuming it is the earlier version.  That is the sight that is in service with the British military.  Like the SIS and RMS, it has an aluminum body (earlier SMS has a plastic body).  You lose some of the options you have with the SIS and save about a hundred bucks.  I think SIS runs ~$500 and CQS runs around $400, so they are up against some pretty serious competition, and I am very curious to see how they stack up.

Shield RMS

Shield RMS

For handguns, the sight that really got my attention is the RMS.  It has the lowest base of any red dot I have seen and looks like it would be a perfect match for cowitnessing iron sights.  With the proprietary plate, it cowitnesses with standard Glock sights, which is kinda remarkable.  Basically, the body of the sight below the lens is concealed by the rear sight and does not interfere with the sight picture.  That means that all the presentation drills I do with iron sights are not wasted.  With RMS, I do not have to change a thing.

I sent the gentleman who owns Shield an e-mail to see if I can get my hands on one.  We will see how it goes, but I am pretty pumped about these.



Another British company around the corner from Shield was Nite-Eyes.  I was probably pre-dispositioned to not take them very seriously since I have a pet peeve about intentionally misspelling words.  I am not sure what the reasoning is behind butchering the words “Night” and “Sight”.  Maybe they were trying to write in ebonics or something.  I was not born in this country and I worked very hard to learn this language.  I sorta take it personally when people butcher it for no good reason.

Nite-Site gizmo

Nite-Site gizmo


This company makes a Near InfraRed camera that clamps onto your scope and blasts the image from the eyepiece onto a screen that hangs a few inches above the scope.  The gizmo with the screen also contains a NIR illuminator that points in the same direction as the barrel.  I see a few problems with this approach.  First of all, if you are shooting a rifle with any sort of recoil, that camera will smack you in the face.  Looking up at that screen while shooting is very unnatural and breaks your cheekweld, since looking at the screen without breaking your cheekweld did not work for me due to camera housing blocking the line of sight.  Then again, they had it all set up with on a Rudolph scope, which kinda stands to reason…  On a plus side, the had a standalone system that was essentially a NIR spotter: it integrates a NIR camera and illuminator into one module with a screen on the back.  That seems like a perfectly viable idea except for some ergonomic issues.  They claim that it is designed to spot things  out to several hundred yards which requires some means of holding it in a stable manner.  The way it is right now is not conducive to that.  Still, that is a fairly clever gadget, while their system that attaches to a scope is… well, I think you worked out what I think about it.


Sightron did not have too many new things  this time around.  They now offer simple plex reticles in some of their high magnification scopes.  There is a new small rimfire scope in the SIH line (3-9×32) which looks like a pretty nice little scope, but a simple crosshair reticle it comes with is not my cup of tea.  I think there were a couple of new SII Blue Sky spotters as well.  The two announcements that are of interest to me were in two far removed from each other market segments: miniature red dots sights and ultra high magnification target scopes.

ED Glass in Sightron's next to of the line scope

ED Glass in Sightron’s next to of the line scope

I spent a lot of time with Sightron’s SV 10-50×60 target scope and really liked the innovative dual speed side focus.  That scope was almost good enough to go head to head with the Marches of this world, but did have some annoying CA at high magnification.  More importantly, Vortex’ new Golden Eagle cost a bit less and performs better at high mag.  Now, Sightron has updated this scope with ED glass, which should help at high mag.  It should be out in late spring some time and I will make sure I get my hands on it.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, it looks like Sightron is finally getting into the miniature red dot sight business with their new SRS6 that features a 6MOA dot and a battery compartment accessible form the top.  I’ll make sure I look at that one too.

 Posted by at 2:13 pm