Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
Sightron is best known in the target shooting community for producing solid no frills scopes at prices lower than comparable competitors. Sightron has always appeared to be low on advertising expenditures and behind the curve on features, but their quality, price, and customer service has been good. Sightron was very late to the party with ffp, mil/mil offerings, and zero stops. For years I talked to them about this and, finally, two years ago, they came out with an SIII in mil/mil ffp. That SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH was one of the sub $1K, ffp, mil/mil scopes I reviewed last year. Since then, they have come out with both a higher cost SV ffp design and this, lower cost S-TAC which sits at $700 street with an MSPR of $1k at the time of this writing.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
At first glance, the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH appears to share a lot of similarities with the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. They are both long and light scopes with very plain and subdued styling. The S-Tac comes in at 15″ in length and 25.6 oz weight. Both scopes’ turrets are also very similar, being 5 mil / turn with similar styling and feel. The S-TAC, however, comes standard with the better labeled and higher visibility text found on the “tactical” turrets which were an aftermarket option on the SIII and also include a zero stop. I should note that you can now get these updated adjustments (zero stop and tactical labeled turret) in the SIII with the SIIISS624X50LRZSFFP/MH model. These are the only changes from the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH I reviewed last year. Unfortunately, to get these additions adds a hefty $150 to the price. To that set of features, the S-Tac additionally has illumination and a flip-up throw lever on the power ring. Neither of these features is to be found on either higher cost SIII scope. In the box with the S-Tac is a lens cloth, plastic flip-up covers, two hex wrenches, a battery, and the same generic-to-all-Sightron-scopes manual that I received with the SIII last year. Said manual was supposed to have been updated to fix a minor error pertaining to angular and linear measurements in the windage and elevation movement table section, but evidently was not, as they are identical manuals. This update not happening could be worse, as it is basically a typo. However, each scope also includes a second supplemental sheet which has a reticle diagram and dimensions for said reticle, as well as a mil ranging formula. The ranging formula was wrong in the SIII’s supplemental sheet and is now somehow wrong in a different way on the S-Tac’s. These are not mere typos either, these are incorrect, non-functional, and non-sensical formulas. The correct formula should be: (target height (meters)/angle subtended (mils)) *1000 = range to target in meters. I am dismayed at both the persistence of the Sightron folks in getting this wrong and the misplaced creativity demonstrated by getting it wrong in a different way.
The Illuminated MH-4 reticle on the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH is very similar to that which was on the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH. Both are very simple mil hash reticles with .5 mil subtensions over most of the reticle and .25 for the first mil from the center. The MH-4 in the S-TAC improves on the reticle in the SIII by adding some number labels for the divisions. This may seem like a minor improvement but in practice it helps greatly in avoiding mis-counting and can also save valuable time when making adjustments. Neither reticle has a Christmas tree section, which I am not sure is a bad thing as tree sections can interfere with how well you can see the splash on a miss. The reticle on the S-TAC is also illuminated and it is substantially thicker. I expect these two may be linked since the SIII had a very fine reticle that I doubt would have illuminated well. The illumination on the S-TAC is not just on the center area but instead on the whole of the graduated section of the reticle. I prefer this arrangement. In general, I feel very much the same about the S-TAC’s reticle that I felt about the SIII”s. There is little to either enthuse or repel a prospective buyer in the design. In testing, the reticle was correctly sized and showed no cant relative to the adjustments.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
For optical comparisons with the S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH, I had the entire suite of sub $1K FFP mil/mil precision rifle scopes that have been part of this ongoing series of reviews. In order of arrival, they are the: Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP, Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. It should be noted that the Nikon was not present to be compared. The example I was originally sent proved defective, had to be returned, and its replacement has not yet arrived at the time of this writing.
The S-TAC was one of the scopes I was most interested in
doing an optical evaluation of. This was because the SIII I tested last year
was, on balance, the strongest performer optically in this sub $1K series of
reviews. The SIII’s consistently good performance across virtually all of the
aspects of optical performance tested coupled with its light weight left me
quite fond of that optic despite the features that it lacked compared to most
of the other scopes in the field. Superficially, the S-TAC appeared to share
some of the same design heritage; perhaps it would do well.
Suffice to say, this was not the case. I will go into more detail. Setting aside the currently-absent-soon-to-be-replaced-because-it-was-defective Nikon, the S-TAC significantly under performed all other scopes in the field. It was rather consistent in this, being at or adjacent to the bottom in resolution, FOV, depth of field, low light, contrast, stray light, and chromatic aberration. Its performance highlights were eyebox and barrel distortion, where it came in just behind its sibling. It is not an uncomfortable or tricky scope to sit behind, it just doesn’t resolve things are well as most of the other scopes I tested. The sum of all this is that the S-TAC was very obviously a tier below any of the other scopes optically and, I would say, was significantly further from the next scope above it in performance than that scope was from the top performer. Given its sibling, I was pretty surprised at this. The performance difference was enough that when I first picked it up and looked though it without a lineup of scopes, I was already pretty sure how it would stack up.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
The S-TAC’s knobs are very similar to those on the SIII with
the addition of a zero stop. The knobs are 5 mil / turn and have clicks that
feel and sound positive, but are not so stressed out that they will skip over
detents and make you miss count. I would therefore say that the feel is a win.
As on most of the sub $1K series, the zero indicator adjusts independently of
zero stop. In this case, you loosen the top screw to change the indicator
setting. The knob is only fastened to the adjustment by this screw and so can
be easily turned when it is loose but must be carefully lined up while being
tightened as there is no indexing. The zero stop is a collar under the knob
that locks into place with three set screws. Once you have zeroed the scope,
you just loosen up the set screws on the collar and turn it until it snugs under
the knob. The actual threading for this collar is above the section that the
set screws interface with so the set screws won’t mess up the threads. Probably
the best thing about this system is that the zero stop collar has a line on it
for each turn above zero. This is very handy, especially since the 5 mil / turn
knobs mean you will often be a few turns above. I find this a substantial
improvement over designs that have lines but where you are already several up
from the bottom at zero and often also at some odd increment between them.
Because the lines are on the collar piece that is the zero stop, they always
line up right. The least attractive feature is that the collar feels a bit like
a jam nut in that the knob will jam itself onto the stop when you turn to it
and stick a bit pulling it off. Overall I like the adjustment mechanism with
the exception of being only 5 mil / turn and only being labeled for that first
When tracking, the adjustments deviate from true in a non
Going up from optical center: -At 5.0 mils on the adjustments, the scope is at 5.1mils on the target. -At 10 mils on the adjustments it is at 10.1 mils on the target. -Its full range is 11.5 mils on the adjustments at which point it is at 11.6 mils on the target. -It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.
Going down from optical center: -At 6.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 6.1 mils on the target. -At 10.0 mils on the adjustments, it is at 10.1 on the target. -Its full range is 11.9 mils on the adjustments 12.0 on the target. -It returns to zero fine and shows no slop in the adjustments going back to center.
On the windage, it also seems to deviate a little, showing
~3.05 mils on the target when it is 3.0 on the knobs. I expect it would prove
to follow the same pattern as the elevation if I had a target that went out
There is no zero shift with parallax, diopter, or power ring and I saw no reticle cant. The reticle graduations are also the correct size. This degree of deviation from true in the tracking is about average for all the scopes I have tested over the years.
Summary and Conclusion:
There is no getting around that the Sightron S-TAC 4-20X50FFPZSIRMH left me a little disappointed. This is because it was optically a clear step below its peers in almost every dimension tested and, given the performance of its sibling SIII last year, I did not expect that. Though not the cheapest, its ~$699 street price is one of the lower costs in the field and it does have some features not present in all other scopes. Illumination is the most notable of these features, which also include a pull out throw lever and zero stop. The S-TAC is one of the only scopes to be limited to 5 mils / turn though. I don’t think that there is one universal answer in this sub $1K price range of ffp mil / mil scopes. If cost and illumination are important to you and optical performance is less important, the S-TAC has what you are looking for. Ironically, it has precisely the opposite strengths and weaknesses from its sibling SIII. I guess they were separated at birth.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: -Has some features not all have: Illumination, zero stop, and a detachable throw lever -It’s zero stop system provides a good indicator of which turn you are on -Adjustments have a good feel and the correct resistance to them so you don’t miss count clicks -Sightron has a good warranty and reputation -At ~$699 street, it is one of the lower cost options
Cons: -Optically a clear step below the other sub $1K optics tested -Only 5 mils / turn -Significantly below average total elevation adjustment range -Manual is lacking and contains basic errors
– Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion: – Summary and Conclusion -Upcoming Models and Changes – Testing Methodology: Adjustments, Reticle Size, Reticle Cant -Testing Methodology: Comparative Optical Evaluation
best known in the target shooting community for producing solid no frills
scopes at prices lower than comparable competitors. Sightron has always
appeared to be low on advertising expenditures and behind the curve on
features, but their quality, price, and customer service has been good.
A few years ago I spent a long time at the Sightron booth
talking to one of their reps about the features necessary for precision rifle
shooting, price points, where I saw gaps in the market, and why none of their
current products did what I wanted them to do. It felt like a productive
conversation. I found out some useful information about what they thought it
would cost them to do this or that and I hope they found it useful as well. I
remember specifically focusing on mid range FFP mil/mil stuff around $1k and
low cost 2FP mil/mil stuff. They have since added the mid range FFP mil/mil
scope in this review, a higher cost FFP mil/mil ED offering, and will soon be
doing some lower cost FFP mil/mil stuff as well. Maybe I even had something to
do with this. Either way, they now have some offerings that I find interesting.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
The Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH is a little surprising
when it comes to the extras in the box. Instead of the near ubiquitous plastic
scope caps, it includes a sunshade, scopecote, and lens cloth. It is both
different than what I expected and also a bit more. As far as documentation
goes, the SIII includes a manual that appears to be generic to all Sightron
scopes and an insert specific to this model which has a dimensioned diagram of
the reticle and some mil equations. I was able to give myself a nice big pat on
the back for thoroughness by finding the mil equations in the insert and one of
the tables in the booklet to be in error. I’ll bet it was a fun time in the
office when that memo came rolling through. I suspect I was the only party
involved who enjoyed himself. A party of one is still a party though, right? In
any case, the equation in the insert is fixed now and hopefully the table in
the manual is being updated as well.
The scope itself looks and feels very clean. It is a
Japanese produced product and has the top shelf fit and finish you generally
see in products coming out of Japan. The knobs are just 5 mils per turn instead
of the more common 10 mils, but feel very good. They are neither squishy nor
those ones that are so stiff its difficult to click just one increment .
Similarly, the stiffness on the parallax and fast focus eye piece are also
quite pleasing. The styling is sort of hunter with just a slight nod to
tactical in the knurled and uncapped adjustments. The optic is relatively long
at 14.96″, narrow with a 50mm objective, and light at 23.8 oz. These
factors, along with the 4x erector ratio and the simple objective lens group I
have observed indicate a pretty conservative optical design. This is not
surprising given how economical this optic is relative to others with similar
optical and production quality. It should also work out very well when it comes
to the optical performance later on in the testing. In keeping with the simple
theme, the model is un-illuminated and has no zero stop or lock on the adjustments,
though the zero can be reset.
The markings on the knobs must have been something of a
debate within Sightron because, in addition the included knobs, there are a few
you can buy aftermarket with better markings. The included knobs are marked in
a not so contrasty gold script every 5 clicks with, unaccountably, the number
of clicks rather than any actual angular dimension. You can partially remedy
this with a gold sharpie by adding a decimal point to make the clicks mils
instead. The properly done what they call “tactical knobs” use a higher
visibility white script and are labeled in mils every .5 mils. The elevation on
those knobs also has additional lines for other turns and the windage is marked
to 2.5 mils R or L. I believe this scope will fit the 74007 knob that has
markings up to 15 mils as well as the listed 74006 one which has markings only
to 10 mils. With a 20MOA base, this scope may actually have slightly more than
15mil of travel depending on your rifle’s zero. Evidently, the argument about which
knobs to include in the box was won by someone who has never shot at distances
requiring significant drop compensation – perhaps it was our trigonomically
challenged manual writer. Either way, the properly marked knobs are $50 each
so… probably sharpie.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH Unboxing
not a lot of options in general around Sightron’s SIII front focal plane line.
Actually, there are exactly two, mil or MOA. Both the mil and MOA versions have
a reticle matched to their adjustments and only that one reticle. In both cases
these reticles are quite simple. The mil version has no labels, but features
markings at 1 mil and .5 mil increments with .25 mil markings for the first mil
and the target dot type floating center that seems to be the current trend for
whatever reason. The reticle is itself on the fine side of spectrum in terms
line thickness. I am, and have always been, in favor of fine reticles. I have
found them to be more precise, a bit faster, and far more comfortable. Thick
caterpillar reticles always give me the same feeling as a gnat flying around my
head. I just want to swat them out of my view. Overall, there is really nothing
special about the SIII’s mil reticle but also nothing particularly problematic.
It is really a pretty good design for broad appeal. I don’t think anybody will
hate it, but it is also not going to be anybody’s favorite and that is pretty
much how I feel about it as well.
In testing, the reticle showed no deviation in size from the
correct dimensions and also showed no can’t relative to the adjustments. So
spot on with that.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH reticle on an optical test
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
Sightron SIII arrived earlier this year than any of the other test scopes and
coincided perfectly with the first of the two review rifles for the year, the
Kelbly Atlas Tactical and Mesa Precision Arms Crux. The timing was quite
fortuitous as the SIII has a higher magnification than any of my personal
scopes and also has a nice fine reticle. These two characteristics are of great
importance for accuracy testing rifles. This gave me a great opportunity to have
a lot of time behind the optic before any of the systematic optical and
mechanical testing. I was quite pleased with the SIII’s performance during this
rifle testing. In particular, it struck me as very good optically, resolving
impacts with such alacrity that my estimations of group sizes while firing
strings proved to be spot on.
For optical comparisons to this Sightron SIII, I had the
other scopes in this series of sub $1k FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope
review, the Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 mm, and Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR
Mil, as well as two that have been used as comparisons by me in previous
reviews for context, the Leupold Mk 6 3-18×44 and my old (and now discontinued)
Zeiss conquest 4.5-14×44. All of these scopes were lined up together on a 5
slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the
methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on
all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now.
I have never before had a set of 5 scopes with such
generally close optical performance. Usually, scopes somewhat sort themselves
into performance tiers with higher tier scopes being better than lower tier
scopes in pretty much all characteristics. That was not even remotely the case
with this lineup. No scope was always first or last when evaluating particular
performance parameters and the order of the scopes rankings changed with pretty
much every particular parameter being evaluated. That being said, the Sightron SIII was, on balance, the best. It
particularly excelled when it came to resolution, contrast, stray light
handling, low light performance, and, unsurprisingly given its conservative
design, depth of field. With regard to the eyebox, it was more middle of the
pack, though it did not feel tight, cramped, or finicky, but rather seemed
large enough. Similarly, it was close to average in chromatic aberration,
though the field all performed well in this regard. The only parameter where
the SIII’s performance was sub-average for the group was in field of view. I
did not notice any particular favor given to this or that end of the spectrum
by the SIII such as is the way some scopes tend to favor greens or reds.
Instead, the SIII seemed pretty balanced.
To some extent, I expected the SIII to have the best overall
optical performance. It fits with the narrative of few features and high
quality that I was expecting by reputation. To me, the SIII is what you get
when you set out to see just how low cost you can make something of a high
standard and still have what you need to shoot long range. You use a simple
optical design and turrets, drop some features like illumination, and
streamline the distribution by removing virtually all the options, variations,
and most of the marketing budget. What you would expect would be excellent
performance for the price and that is what the SIII delivers optically.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
mentioned in the unboxing section, the SIII features simple 5 mil per turn
adjustment knobs with no zero stop or turn indicator and a less than ideal
marking scheme, but with great feel. The zero setting on these knobs is done
with a single torx screw on top. Testing the accuracy of these adjustments was
done in accordance with the methodology section detailed at the end of this
review. This methodology was followed on all the scopes this year and has been
in use for a few years now.
In testing, the adjustments deviated in the following ways
Adjusting impact up from optical center, they were accurate
to 4.0 mils.
At 5.0 mils on target the adjustments read 4.9 mils.
At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.
At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.
The scope adjusts up to 12.7 mils on the target, at which
point the adjustments are at 12.4 mils. There was no continued movement of the
adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.
Adjusting down from center the scope was accurate to 2 mils.
At 3 mils on the target the adjustments read 2.9 mils.
At 7.0 mils on target the adjustments read 6.8 mils.
At 10.0 mils on target the adjustments read 9.7 mils.
At 14.0 mils on target the adjustments read 13.6 mils.
The scope adjusts down to 15.0 mils on the target at which
point the adjustments are at 14.7 mils. There was no continued movement of the
adjustments after travel movement of the reticle stopped.
The windage varied similarly to elevation measuring 4.0 mils
on the target at 3.9 mils on the adjustments each way.
This tracking was repeatable and it returned to zero with no
problems. Tracking on windage and elevation was properly independent. No zero
shift was affected by power change, parallax change, or diopter change. For
those wondering, it is not unusual to have more adjustment on one side of optical
center than on the other. Though the tube will have the same amount of room on
both sides of center, other factors, such as the return spring or turret
housing, often limit travel in one or the other direction.
Getting adjustments to exactly match the correct magnitude
is one of the most difficult aspects of scope manufacture. As such, most scopes
show deviation to some degree measurable with my equipment. The average
deviation, based on my past tests, is about 1% at 10 mils. The SIII was a good
bit above this, deviating 3% at 10 mils. The effect of this on the shooter is
that you need to correct your estimated Ballistic table for it. If you print
tables from online calculators, such as I do, you can tailor each entry to
reflect the scopes exact deviation at that point. In the case of smartphone
type ballistic computing applications, some now include an input to allow for
deviations, usually linear, arising
from the scope. Most of the time scopes do not deviate entirely linearly,
however. Scopes usually deviate by more the further from center the adjustment
moves, as is the case with this one. In the end, most app-based ballistic
calculators often struggle both with this correction as well as with
integrating actual data proven in the field with the calculator’s estimations.
At some point I should probably do a whole review set on ballistic calculators,
but that is not today’s project.
The takeaway from the mechanical testing is that the SIII
tracks cleanly and repeatably, but has a bit more deviation than I would
expect. This will mean more correction to ballistic tables than is typical. It
should also be mentioned that each SIII example should not be expected to vary
by the same amount with regard to the magnitude of the deviation in the
adjustments and all scopes are like this. All scopes are typically designed to
have no deviation but slight lens positioning differences from piece to piece
result in deviation from the design specs.
Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH during mechanical testing
Summary and Conclusion:
frankly, this year’s set of sub $1k ffp mil/mil precision optics has proven
much better than I expected. A few years ago you really couldn’t get the
features necessary to shoot long range in an optic for under $1.2k and I really
didn’t like any of the options until almost $2k. I like this Sightron though
and I like some of the other sub $1k options as well. Shooters now have some
real viable and meaningful choices in long range precision optics for a budget.
As for that budget, the street price on this Sightron varies significantly from
outlet to outlet, but the shooter should find it for well below $1k.
I think the SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH represents a low featured
but well manufactured precision rifle scope. It is the best optically that I
have tested and is significantly better than I would expect from a scope at
that price. Similarly, I expect it too be pretty durable as the production line
it comes from has a long history of durability and longevity. Sightron also has
a good reputation for backing their products should anything go amiss. The
SIII’s features are limited, though, and the adjustments are neither 10 mils
per turn nor very well marked unless you spend the $50 for the aftermarket
turrets. It is also not illuminated. Lastly, the 3% deviation in adjustments at
10 mils from the example I have would suggest that one element of keeping costs
low is the allowance of wider tolerances in manufacture than average, specifically
in the manual labor of lens positioning that accounts for a large amount of
manufacturing cost. This does mean more correction of data by the end user.
All told, I am certain that the package Sightron has put
together here will be found compelling by many and develop a significant
following. I know I am quite taken with it.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: – Exceptional optics for the cost in almost every aspect – Lightweight – Nice extras with sunshade and scopecote – Good adjustment range – All the knobs feel good (sorry, pun not avoided) – Reticle is acceptable and sized properly – Tracks repeatably with no zero shifts – Good warranty and reputation
Cons: – Stripped features, 5mil/turn, no illumination, no turn indicator, low erector ratio – Poorly labeled adjustments unless you buy aftermarket – The tested example had more deviation than average on adjustments – Manual is lacking and contains basic errors
the process of doing this review and communicating back and forth with
Sightron, I learned of some upcoming features and models that I think will be
of interest to readers of this review. As I mentioned before, not long ago
Sightron didn’t make anything that was featured properly for long range
shooting and this model represented something of a first step into that feature
set. Evidently, it went well as Sightron is coming up with some more offerings
in that direction as well as improving this and other existing models.
Specifically, Sightron is giving
the SIII and SV zero stops and coming out with an even lower cost ($699 mspr)
FFP mil/mil offering in the S-Tac line which will be a first in that price
range to offer a zero stop. The zero stop on the SIII and S-Tac is of an
entirely new design that is remarkably simple, inexpensive to manufacture, and
also very flexible and easy to use. Simply put, it is a threaded collar that you
just snug up under the elevation knob at the zero point preventing it from
going lower in the way that cumbersome shim systems worked but without the
cumbersome mess. Unlike pin type systems, this can also be set a couple tenths
below zero if you want a little wiggle room. In that way, it is better than
many more complex zero stop systems on scopes costing many thousands of
dollars. It is also very easy to understand, so I don’t think anybody will get
confused setting it as often has happened on other systems. In addition to the
zero stops, Sightron will be adding more, and more refined, reticle choices to
some of its models.
I expect to have additional details
on all of this in this years ShotShow reporting. For now, here is a look at
Sightron’s simple and effective zero stop concept.
Sightron’s new zero stop concept on an upcoming S-Tac mil/mil FFP scope
testing scope adjustments, I use the adjustable V-block on the right of the
test rig to first center the erector. Approximately .2 or so mil of deviation
is allowed from center in the erector as it is difficult to do better than this
because the adjustable V-block has some play in it. The erector can be centered
with the scope mounted or not mounted. If it started unmounted, I mount it
after centering. I next set the zero stop (on scopes with such a feature) to
this centered erector and attach the optic to the rail on the left side of the
Mechanical testing apparatus and target
fine threaded 7/16″ bolts on the rig allow the scope to be aimed precisely
at an 8’x3′ Horus CATS 280F target 100 yds downrange as measured by a quality
fiberglass tape measure. The target is also trued to vertical with a bubble
level. The reticle is aimed such that its centerline is perfectly aligned with
the centerline of the target and it is vertically centered on the 0 mil
target is graduated in both mils and true MOA and calibrated for 100 yards. The
target is mounted upside-down on a target backer designed specifically for this
purpose as the target was designed to be fired at rather than being used in
conjunction with a stationary scope. (Since up for bullet impact means down for
reticle movement on the target, the inversion is necessary.) With the three
bolts tightened on the test rig head, the deflection of the rig is about .1 mil
under the force required to move adjustments. The rig immediately returns to
zero when the force is removed. It is a very solid, very precise test platform.
These bolts allow the scope to be precisely positioned such that its reticle is
perfectly aligned with the test target prior to moving the adjustments. Each
click of movement in the scope adjustments moves the reticle on the target and
this can observed by the tester as it actually happens during the test: it’s quite a lot of fun if you are a bit of
a nerd like I am! After properly setting the parallax to the target (head bob
method) and diopter (after the parallax), I move the elevation adjustment
though the range from erector center until it stops, making note every 5 mils
of adjustment dialed of any deviation in the position of the reticle on the
target relative to where it should be and also making note of the total travel
and any excess travel in the elevation knob after the reticle stops moving but
before the knob stops. At the extent of this travel I can also determine the
cant of the reticle by measuring how far off of the target centerline the
reticle has moved. I next reverse the adjustment process and go back down to
zero. This is done several times to verify consistency with any notes taken of
changes. After testing the elevation adjustments in this manner, the windage
adjustments are tested out to 4 mils each way in similar fashion using the same
target and basically the same method. The elevation and windage are then tested
in conjunction with one another by making a large box 8 mil wide and as tall as
the adjustments will allow. If the scope is one where it is easy to do so (not
a pin type zero stop model), I next re-align the test rig to point the scope at
the bottom of the target and test the elevation in the other direction for
tracking and range. After concluding the testing of adjustments, I also test
the reticle size calibration. This is done quite easily on this same target by
comparing the reticle markings to those on the target.
Testing a single
scope of a given model from a given manufacturer, which is really all that is
feasible, is not meant to be indicative of all scopes from that maker. Accuracy
of adjustments, reticle size, and cant will differ from scope to scope. After
testing a number of scopes, I have a few theories as to why. As designed on
paper, I doubt that any decent scope has flaws resulting in inaccurate clicks
in the center of the adjustment range. Similarly, I expect few scopes are
designed with inaccurate reticle sizes (and I don’t even know how you would go
about designing a canted reticle as the reticle is etched on a round piece of
glass and cant simply results from it being rotated incorrectly when
positioned). However, ideal designs aside, during scope assembly the lenses are
positioned by hand and will be off by this much or that much. This deviation in
lens position from design spec can cause the reticle size or adjustment
magnitude to be incorrect and, I believe, is the reason for these problems in
most scopes. Every scope maker is going to have a maximum acceptable amount of
deviation from spec that is acceptable to them and I very much doubt they would
be willing to tell you what this number is, or better yet, what the standard of
deviation is. The tighter the tolerance, the better from the standpoint of the
buyer, but also the longer average time it will take to assemble a scope and,
therefore, the higher the cost. Assembly time is a major cost in scope
manufacture. It is actually the reason that those S&B 1-8x short dots took
years to make it to market. Tolerances are a particular concern for scopes that
have high magnification ratios and also for those that are short in length.
Both of these design attributes tend to make assembly very touchy. This should
make you, the buyer, particularly careful to test purchased scopes that have
these desirable attributes, as manufacturers will face greater pressure on
these types to allow looser standards. If you test your scope and find it
lacking, I expect that you will not have too much difficulty in convincing a
maker with a reputation for good customer service to remedy it: squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that.
Remember that some deviations, say a scope’s adjustments being 1% too large or
small, are easy to adjust for in ballistic software, whereas others, a large
reticle cant for instance, are not.
leave adjustments, reticle size, and reticle cant, I will give you some general
trends I have noticed so far. The average adjustment deviation seems to vary on
many models with distance from optical center. This is a good endorsement for a
20 MOA base, as it will keep you closer to center for longer. The average
deviation for a scope’s elevation seems to be about .1% at 10 mils. Reticle
size deviation is sometimes found to vary with adjustments so that both the
reticle and adjustments are off in the same way and with similar magnitude.
This makes them agree with each other when it comes to follow up shots. I
expect this is caused by the error in objective lens position affecting both
the same. In scopes that have had a reticle with error, it has been of this
variety, but fewer scopes have this issue than have adjustments that are off.
Reticle size deviation does not appear to vary in magnitude as you move from
erector center although adjustment deviation often does. The mean amount of
reticle error is less than .05%. Reticle cant mean is about .05 degrees.
Reticle cant, it should be noted, affects the shooter as a function of
calculated drop and can easily get lost in the windage read. As an example, a 1
degree cant equates to about 21 cm at 1000 meters with a 168 gr .308 load that
drops 12.1 mil at that distance. That is a lot of drop, and a windage misread
of 1 mph is of substantially greater magnitude (more than 34 cm) than our
example reticle cant-induced error. This type of calculation should be kept in
mind when examining all mechanical and optical deviations in a given
scope: a deviation is really only
important if it is of a magnitude similar to the deviations expected to be
introduced by they shooter, conditions, rifle, and ammunition. Lastly, the
proliferation of “humbler” type testing units such as mine appears to
have resulted in scope companies improving their QC standards. I see less
deviation in products now then a few years ago.
The goal of
my optical performance evaluation is NOT to attempt to establish some sort of
objective ranking system. There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, it
is notoriously difficult to measure optics in an objective and quantifiable
way. Tools, such as MTF plots, have been devised for that purpose, primarily by
the photography business. Use of such tools for measuring rifle scopes is
complicated by the fact that scopes do not have any image recording function
and therefore a camera must be used in conjunction with the scope. Those who
have taken through-the-scope pictures will understand the image to image
variance in quality and the ridiculousness of attempting to determine quality
of the scope via images so obtained.
Beyond the difficulty of applying objective and quantifiable tools from
the photography industry to rifle scopes, additional difficulties are
encountered in the duplication of repeatable and meaningful test conditions.
Rifle scopes are designed to be used primarily outside, in natural lighting,
and over substantial distances. Natural lighting conditions are not amenable to
repeat performances. This is especially true if you live in central Ohio, as I
do. Without repeatable conditions, analysis tools have no value, as the
conditions are a primary factor in the performance of the optic. Lastly, the
analysis of any data gathered, even if such meaningful data were gathered,
would not be without additional difficulties. It is not immediately obvious
which aspects of optical performance, such as resolution, color rendition,
contrast, curvature of field, distortion, and chromatic aberration, should be
considered of greater or lesser importance. For such analysis to have great
value, not only would a ranking of optical aspects be in order, but a
compelling and decisive formula would have to be devised to quantitatively
weigh the relative merits of the different aspects. Suffice it to say, I have
neither the desire nor the resources to embark on such a multi-million dollar
project and, further, I expect it would be a failure anyway as, in the end no
agreement will be reached on the relative weights of different factors in
The goal of
my optical performance evaluation is instead to help the reader get a sense of
the personality of a particular optic. Much of the testing documents the
particular impressions each optic makes on the tester. An example of this might
be a scope with a particularly poor eyebox behind which the user notices he
just can’t seem to get to a point where the whole image is clear. Likewise, a
scope might jump out to the tester as having a very bad chromatic aberration
problem that makes it difficult to see things clearly as everything is fringed
with odd colors. Often these personality quirks mean more to the users’
experience than any particular magnitude of resolution number would. My testing
seeks to document the experience of using a particular scope in such a way that
the reader will form an impression similar to that of the tester with regard to
like or dislike and will be aware of the reasons for that impression.
technique utilized for this testing is comparative observation. One of the test
heads designed for my humbler apparatus consists of five V-blocks of which four
are adjustable. This allows each of the
four scopes on the adjustable blocks to be aimed such that they are collinear
with the fifth. For the majority of the testing, each scope is then set to the
same power (the highest power shared by all as a rule). Though power numbers
are by no means accurately marked, an approximation will be obtained. Each
scope will have the diopter individually adjusted by the tester, the
adjustments centered optically, and the parallax set. A variety of targets,
including both natural backdrops and optical test targets, will be observed
through the plurality of optics with the parallax being adjusted for each optic
at each target. A variety of lighting conditions over a variety of days will be
utilized. Specific notes are made regarding:
resolution, color rendition, contrast, field of view, edge to edge
quality, light transmission, pincushion and barrel distortion, chromatic
aberration, tunneling, depth of field, eyebox, stray light handling, and
optical flare. The observations through all of these sessions will be combined
in the way that the tester best believes conveys his opinion of the optic’s
performance and explains the reasons why.
Comparative optical testing of this years sub $1k
precision rifle scopes behind the adjustable v-block
Sightron SIII 1-7x24mm Shot show 2012 mini review.
By Les (Jim) Fischer (BigJimFish on AR15.com 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.
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.
S1 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.
SII 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.
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:
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).
SIII 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.
10×42 Tactical Riflescopes:SightronS3 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 riflescopesis, 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 advantagefrom an optical standpoint is in system design: it is much easier to optimizethe optical formulafor 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 scopeswith rangingreticlesand exposed knobsare 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 theSightronS3 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 preferthese configurationto 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
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
1/4, 1/2, and 1 MOA available
38 mrad (~130 MOA)
Single turn adjustment
depends on the knobs
single turn turret
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 havea strong preferencesone way or the other as long as it works well.
The original S.S. has quite a bit more field of view than theSightronor 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 thanSightronand S.S.HD. S.S. does have the largest eyepiece which helps with the field of view.
S.S. 10x42HD hasmradclicks to go with theMilDotreticle. That, to me, is a big deal. Ranging and dialing in are a fair bit simpler when both thereticleand 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 adjustmentrange, 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.
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 8×57Mauser. 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. SightronS3 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 andeyepiece 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 resetusing only one hex bolt at the top of the turret). ResettingSightronS3 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 thatSightronis 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:
It is a Mil-Dot reticle with half-mil hashmarks added. I find those additional hashmark facilitate both ranging and holdover.
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.
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):
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.
Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
This Midas Tac 5-25×56 is the third scope I have reviewed from the relatively new Athlon optics company. Started and run by a couple of optical industry alums, Athlon sources optics from a number of different overseas OEM’s which are made to the companies’ specifications. Based on the company’s growth rate and customer satisfaction, the Athlon guys appear to be quite good at this. Certainly the scopes I have seen from them have proven predictably reliable and with features that I judge to be well chosen for the marketplace. Furthermore, Athlon appears to have a very rigorous quality control apparatus in place, as the scopes I have seen have much lower than average deviation from specifications when it comes to adjustment magnitude, reticle size, and reticle alignment. The predictability of their function is starting to make them rather dull to test.
Today’s scope, the Midas Tac 5-25×56, is a new scope being added to their existing Midas TAC line. It’s sort of a gap-filler. It is of similar glass quality and magnification to the existing Midas TAC 6-24×50, but has a larger 56mm form factor more in line with the higher end ARES ETR 4.5-30×56. You could choose to see it as a lower cost alternative to the ARES ETR 4.5-30×56, which it is similar in size to or as a larger alternative to the Midas TAC 6-24x that it shares relative glass quality with.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
We may as well start the theme of this review right here. There were no surprises in the unboxing. The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 comes with a lens cloth and manual just like its little brother the Midas TAC 6-24×50 did. It is styled very similarly and, from the objective to the tube to the eyepiece, it just appears to be a slightly bigger version of the same idea. The 5-25×56 is about 4oz heavier, just under an inch longer, has a 34mm instead of 30mm tube, and, of course, has a 56mm objective instead of 50mm. Probably, the biggest highlights are the 32mil instead of 25mil total elevation adjustment and the larger 5x instead of 4x magnification ratio. 32 mils is actually a pretty large adjustment range at any price these days, and the Midas TAC 5-25×56 is not a high cost optic.
The manual included with the Midas TAC 5-25×56 I received for testing appears to be the same one as the Midas TAC Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50 from last year. In fact, its section with scope dimensions has not been updated to include the 5-25×56. I received this scope just before they hit the market generally, so it is likely from the first run and the manual you will receive had not yet been printed. Hopefully they update the troubleshooting section of the new one to remove the suggestion to directly support the barrel with a sandbag, as well as the text about excessive grease in the barrel. There should be no grease at all in a barrel at the time of firing.
The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is available with just one mil and one MOA reticle option. The mil option, the APRS3, is a typical mil hash Christmas tree reticle with a floating dot center and .2 mil increments horizontally out to 6 mils then .5 mil increments after that out to 9 mils, at which point there is just a thick crosshairs. Vertically, the reticle is graduated in .2 mil increments for just one mil. At that point, the top half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 9 mils and then it becomes a thick crosshairs, while the bottom half is graduated in .5 mil increments out to 7 mils, where it goes back to .2 mil increments until 10 mils, at which point it becomes a thick crosshairs. While there is probably some rationale for the alternating use of a .2 mil graduation system and a .5 mil one, this is not fully explained anywhere, though even if it were, I likely wouldn’t agree with it over the consistency of sticking with the .2 mil increments throughout. Both vertical and horizontal crosshairs are numbered every 2 mils and are on the thinner than average side when it comes to line thickness. The Christmas tree section has rows of dots every mil below the central crosshairs. Each row is graduated in fine dots every .2 mils and a thicker dot every mil. The MOA based reticle, the APLR4 FFP MOA, has essentially the same appearance as the mil reticle. Unsurprisingly, its graduations are spaced 1 MOA apart. The APRS3 Christmas tree mil hash reticle is very much in line with what I see the industry converging to and the alternation between .5 and .2 mil increments at places is really the only bone I have to pick with it.
When tested, the reticle showed a very slight cant of ~.5 degrees counter-clockwise relative to the adjustments. This is not an amount of deviation I would be concerned about. The reticle graduations were correctly sized.
All seven sub $1K FFP mil/mil long range precision riflescopes. Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is on the far left. On balance, the Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 is optically the best of the Athlon scopes tested and on the better side of the field of sub $1K scopes overall. Its strongest points were field of view, depth of field, low light performance, and contrast. In these aspects it was either the best performer or close to it. The TAC 5-25×56 was more middle of the pack when it came to resolution, eyebox, barrel distortion, stray light handling, and chromatic aberration. In no aspect of optical performance that I measured did the TAC 5-25×56 test in the bottom 3rd of scopes tested. I think that the avoidance of any real weaknesses might speak as well for the scope as the overall above average finish. There is something to be said for an optical design balanced well enough that it really doesn’t stumble in any single design criterion.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
The Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56 features a virtually identical large uncapped 10 mil per turn zero stop elevation adjustment to that of the Midas TAC 6-24×50. Both scopes adjustments have the firm, postitive, “clicky” feel. that comes from a high ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks. This does mean that you will occasionally over-rotate with them or lose click count and have to look at the dial. The Midas scopes are not the most difficult in this regard, but it will happen occasionally. I think the ratio of click force / rotation force between clicks is a difficult decision for optics makers. People generally greatly prefer this “clicky” feel and dislike the squishy feel that you get if the ratio of click force / rotation force between the clicks is low. However, it is difficult to have that positive “clicky” feel and also have a knob that the user won’t occasionally over rotate or loose count and have to break position to check on. Athlon has experimented both ways on this in the past and has understandably gone with the customers preferred feel. You do not make money telling people what the ought to want, you make it by producing what they already want.
Just like the smaller Midas, the 5-25×56 has a smaller capped windage knob. This knob is a 10 mils per turn knob that is marked 1-5 in each direction. The windage knob on my 5-25×56 is significantly stiffer and “clickier” than it was on the TAC 6-24×50, and, as a result, is easier to over-rotate or lose click count on. The power ring and parallax knob on the Midas are on the looser side of average with the euro-style diopter ring about average. The diopter rings on both Midas scopes seem to have a bit more correction range than on most scopes which I classify a win since I recently had an issue with a competitor who had so little range that I couldn’t even focus my 20/20 uncorrected eye all the way back to its optimum 20/15 or so.
The Midas TAC 5-25×56 elevation knob’s features and design are common to all of the Athlons I have tested so far. They are 10mil per turn and feature Athlon’s particular zero stop system, as well as an outer knob with the mil graduation markings on it that can be repositioned. Repositioning the markings to read zero at the rifle’s zero is done in the common way. The outer knob pops off and can be repositioned after removal of a single screw in the top. This outer knob is toothed with enough teeth that its markings will properly line up with the actual detents instead of landing between as some others have done. The zero stop system is one that both Midas TAC scopes share with the Ares BTR but that I have not seen on other optics. As is common, the whole elevation knob on the Midas screws up and down as the adjustment it rotated. This attribute forms the basis of both the zero stop and the simple scribed turn indicator. The zero stop consists of a brass disc they refer to as the “zero stop locking plate” located under the removable outer adjustment sleeve. This disc can be repositioned using three set screws. So, basically, you zero the scope, remove the outer sleeve, loosen the set screws, and move the disc so that it is lying flat on the saddle with its stop protrusion immediately to the right of the stop protrusion on the scope saddle. You then gently tighten the set screws and replace the sleeve and its screw with the proper alignment of the zero. This zero stop is very inexpensive to make, in addition to being quite functional. It also has the same advantage as most plunger style systems in that you can set it independently of the markings to give you a few tenths of adjustment below the zero if you want. It is a well designed system and I’m a fan.
In testing, the scope tracked absolutely dead nuts from 0 up to 17.4mils, returned to zero fine, and then tracked down from zero right on the money to 17.1mils for a total travel of 34.5mils. This travel range is even a bit more than the already generous 32mils advertised. Unsurprisingly, the Midas TAC 5-25×56 also tracked fine to the 4mils each way that I can measure horizontally and showed no zero shift with adjustment of the parallax, diopter, or power ring. The parallax knob even showed exactly 100yds when focused at 100yds and those things are never right.
Summary and Conclusion:
The pattern emerging with these Athlon scopes is that they
are solid predictable performers with good value at their price points and with
the most in-demand features. The quality control on the three scopes I have
seen has been superb, as two of the three showed no measurable deviation at all
from perfect in adjustment increment and the other was still better than
average. Similarly, all three had properly sized reticles and none had cant of
more than .5 degrees. This is a rather impressive record.
Optically, all the Athlons I have tested have met or exceeded my
expectations. Overall, this one was the best performer, landing well on
the higher performing half of all the sub $1K scopes tested. Larger 56mm
scopes are not my favorite, as I typically see little gain for the
extra size and weight of over 50mm scopes. In this case though, you do
get significantly more elevation range, and the optical design itself is
a little better optimized than either of its 50mm brethren.
The street price on this Midas TAC 5-25×56 is around $850, making it
about the same as the Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 and ~$200 more than the Midas
TAC 6-24×50. All three of these scopes make good arguments at their
price points so I think that Athlon has done a pretty good job of the
tricky work of product positioning. It is not hard to see why the
company is having such success.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: – Optics are significantly better than average at the price and well optimized – Tracked perfectly – Properly sized reticle with very little cant – Athlon’s QC is starting to look pretty superior – Very simple effective zero stop that lets you chose travel below zero if you want. – Full 10mil/turn knobs – Superb 32mil elevation travel – Reticle design in line with current trends – Good warranty and reputation
Cons: – 56mm objective does add size and weight – You will occasionally lose click count on the “clicky” adjustments and need to look at the graduations. – No illumination. – Basically no extras like scope caps, sunshade, or bra – Relatively new company with short, though good, track record
Les (Jim) Fischer BigJimFish Written: Nov 15, 2019
Table of Contents: – Background – Unboxing and Physical Description – Reticle – Comparative Optical Evaluation – Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion – Summary and Conclusion – Testing Methodology
an optics manufacturer located in the Czech Republic. They represent what is
probably the most vertically integrated of all sports optics brands. Most scope
brands do not actually have any manufacturing facilities beyond warranty
repair. Those that do manufacture usually purchase coated glass and often some
sub-assemblies as well. Meopta manufactures all the way down to coating and
grinding glass. A great deal of their business is done in this OEM capacity,
producing parts and sub-assemblies not just for sport optics,but also for a
wide variety of other industries, such as medical and aerospace. The first
Meopta product I ever used was one of these OEM’d products. The very popular,
though now discontinued, original Zeiss Conquest series of scopes were made by
Meopta and continue to live on in Meopta’s lineup as the Meopta Meopro scopes.
Like many overseas manufacturers, Meopta has had difficulty with regard to both marketing their products and deciding what features to make for U.S. consumption. Their brand awareness has also been downright terrible. Some of this is understandable, as they were formerly in the Soviet sphere of influence and so were not seen in western markets until after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact. Much of it has just been lack of good branding, or appreciation of brand value. In the past few years this has changed some. A lot of this has to do with an advanced U.S. based optical coatings company that Meopta acquired a few years ago. The company came with some U.S. based employees who thought like U.S. shooters and changed the thinking within Meopta to a degree. This group also developed the technology behind the Dichro reticles featured on many of the Optika6 designs, though not the example I am testing.
The Optika6 line therefore is a big departure from previous Meopta offerings in that it includes a lot of ffp designs, mil/mil configurations, zero stops, throw levers, and some reticle designs from ILya.
Unboxing and Physical Description:
The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP comes with a nice scope bra, lens cloth, battery, sticker, hex wrench, some spare screws, and a detachable throw lever that threads into the power change ring. There is also a manual, but it is not particularly useful. It has some stats on the scope’s specifications, but it’s directions on use are quite minimal and difficult to follow. I find the Optika6 to be an attractive scope. I am not sure exactly what makes some scopes attractive and others less so, or if there is any universality to what people find good looking in a scope or not. This one looks good to me though. I would describe it as having a softened tactical appearance. This is both figurative and literal in that the knurling on all the controls is rubber and so will not try to strip the flesh from your hands. The stiffness of each knob (paralax, power, diopter, and illumination) is right on. We will discuss elevation and windage adjustments later. Being a 30x 56mm optic with 34mm tube, it is pretty large. It weighs in at 38oz and is 15.4″ long.
Optika6 line comes in several different reticle options. For the 5-30×56, these
include a plex reticle, generic BDC with dichro elements, .308 drop reticle,
and ILya’s MRAD RD. It is a pity the MRAD RD does not have any dichro on it, as
I would have liked to try that concept out. That is secondary though. Having a
reticle that can hit at range is the important thing, and the MRAD RD is by far
the best option for that.
ILya’s MRAD RD reticle follows the general trend of .2mil
graduated, floating dot center, Christmas tree reticles, but with a few
distinctions. The first such distinction is that it only has only 1 mil of
graduations in the 12 o’clock sector. I like the open top section as it gives
you some space to observe a target area through with no obstructions. The
second departure ILya has from the norm is that he does less funny business
with graduation increments. Pretty much all the graduations are .2 mil
increments and there are .2mil graduations in all sectors of the reticle,
including the center. Many other scopes keep changing things up. This causes
more mental overhead and more mistakes. I never found myself second guessing
what a marking was on ILya’s reticle and that is really the goal. Lastly, the
line widths used for the graduations and crosshairs on ILya’s reticle are
significantly smaller than the average. I’m a fan of finer graduations so I
will take it. This leaves the reticle very fine indeed at 5x, but at 5x you’re
really only using the scope for observation anyway, so I don’t see a problem
with maximizing the reticles use for 15x and greater.
This brings us to the Christmas tree section. At first I was a big proponent of Christmas tree sections. The concept appealed to me because I really like more utility in a reticle. I thought that trees would make for faster measurement of shot correction, give you a faster way to make corrections in a pinch, and extend your total drop compensation range. In practice though, I have experienced less gain than I expected in these areas, and found a big trade off when it comes to seeing splash. Even when using a reticle with a tree section, I have continued to find it more accurate to measure for shot correction by moving the reticle to get read outs at right angles. Using the tree is both less accurate (big vertical gaps) and only works if your miss lands in the tree section. Not shooting strictly timed competitions (or ones that specifically contrive to disallow adjustment of the scope on some sections) I have found no speed advantage. Finally, most scopes now have adjustment range sufficient to any distance that I am confident of hitting at anyway. I really don’t do more than 15mils in drop ever and virtually every scope will give you that on the elevation turret. So, I have become uncertain as to whether or not I want a tree section at all and very certain that if I have one it should be minimal. The section in the MRAD RD is very thin but does have a lot of measurements. There are dots every .2mils and also dots at the .5mil increments between lines. For me it does interfere some in my ability to see splash. Less tree is desired. In testing, the reticle showed only the smallest deviation from correct dimensions. It starts a little larger than correct and then at about 8 mils crosses back to be very slightly smaller. At no point is it off more than .02 mils. That is to say, it is very good. The reticle is canted only very slightly relative to the adjustments, .03 mils in 10 mils of adjustment, in the counter-clockwise direction. This is also pretty good and of a small enough magnitude that it should not cause any problems.
Comparative Optical Evaluation:
This review of the Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is part of an ongoing series of sub $1k FFP mil/mil precision rifle scope reviews. These scopes are used as the optical comparison scopes for each other. In order of arrival, they are the: Sightron SIIISS624x50LRFFP/MH, Athlon Ares BTR 4.5-27×50 FFP IR Mil, Athlon Midas TAC 6-24×50, Athlon Midas TAC 5-25×56, Sightron S-TAC 4-20x50FFPZSIRMH, and Nikon Black FX1000 6-24x50SF Matte IL FX-MRAD. For testing, these scopes were lined up together on a 5 slot adjustable v-block and evaluated using the procedure outlined in the methodology section at the end of this review. This same methodology is used on all long range scope evaluations and has been for several years now. Lastly, the Nikon had some issues necessitating its return. At the time of this review’s publication, its replacement has not arrived.
The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP was optically the
most interesting of all the Sub $1k ffp optics I have tested. The reason for
this is that it was the most unpredictable with regards to how it would perform
on any one specific attribute. For an example, we will start off with
resolution. The Meopta was significantly better than all the other sub $1k
scopes with regards to resolution. It was good enough I actually broke out a
USO SN3 3.2-17×44 I was testing for my uncle to test it beside the Meopta just
in case. That probably wasn’t necessary. The answer was no, the sub $1k Meopta
Optika6 is not competitive with the USO that had been well over twice the
price. It does, however, lead all other sub $1k scopes tested in resolution. On
the flip side, it is by far the worst at handling stray light. It should have
come with a sunshade. If you buy this scope, buy a sunshade and you will be a
much happier person. This stray light issue was a pain for me as both my
principle shooting range, and my optical comparison area are south facing and
anytime any direct sunlight landed on that objective from any angle it
significantly degraded performance. It actually took a while to figure out
exactly what was going down as the stray light would sometimes show up as the
typical hazy look, but other times things just looked out of focus or showed as
very telltale blooms.
Resolution and stray light were what I would call the two bookends of the optical performance of this scope. Following that pattern, The Meopta’s depth of field was the best in the group but its eyebox was the worst. In practice, at the range, the eyebox was perfectly functional, I actually had mistakenly thought it would prove to be roomy when compared to others. However, shorn of the stabilizing adjustable cheek piece of my rifle, it proved the smallest. On field of view, the Meopta had one of the largest, but it also had close to the most pronounced barrel distortion. The Meopta again led the field with very minimal chromatic aberration but was only average when it came to contrast. Despite having one of the few larger 56mm objectives in the lineup, the Meopta was only average in low light performance. What to make of a scope so often at the extremes? I think a couple things are notable. First, though the Meopta did spend a lot of time at both the top and bottom of the lineup, it spent more at the top than the bottom. Second, it tended to land near the top on the most important aspects of performance, these being resolution and field of view. Its worst showing, easily stray light handling, is also easily remedied with a sunshade. So, on balance I would say it performs better than average optically for the price, provided you have a sunshade on it.
Mechanical Testing and Turret Discussion:
First we will start by talking about the unique the Optika6 has. The elevation pulls up to adjust and pushes down to lock. Oddly, the windage is neither capped nor locking. The zero adjusts on both knobs with the removal of a single screw in the center of the elevation adjustment and then removal and repositioning of the outer sleeve. Meopta has made this single screw easily removable without tools for the elevation knob which is nice. The windage knob’s requires a coin or screwdriver. The zero stop on the Optika6 scopes is a unique system. I have illustrated how to change it in the illustration below. You will note that, due to its unique cog-based system, use of the zero stop system will limit the maximum elevation range to a little less than three full revolutions. This comes out to somewhere around 28 mils total travel, which is a lot. You also may feel the zero stop cog as you rotate past it moving to your 2nd and 3rd revolutions. It feels sort of like a loose mechanical part. In fact, the first time I felt it I thought something felt loose and broken. Eventually, I realized what it was and that it is not an issue. Really, it is a pretty clever zero stop system and solves the difficulty that adding the locking mechanism to the elevation knob created for making a zero stop system.
Here is where I will talk about the feel of the clicks in
the adjustments. Most people are just wrong about clicks. Everybody seems to
say they like firm, stressed out, super positive clicks and not squishy ones.
This really comes down to saying you want almost all the resistance to motion
in the knob to come from the click detent itself and not something else,
usually an o-ring. I used to think this might just be a matter of taste, but it
is not. Most people are just wrong in their preferences, and here is why. This
is not about the tactile sensation of handling your knob and wanting it firm
and positive. This is about counting the clicks as you adjust, not miscounting,
and not having to break position to look up and check that the knob is on the
correct number. If the turrets are the very “clicky” variety, best
characterized by the S&B MTC turrets, you will often experience clicks that
you miss. This is because it takes a lot of force to move the turret over the
first detent, but between the first and second it takes almost no force. So,
your turning pretty hard and the turret skips though several detents quickly
enough that you don’t feel them all. The Meopta Optika6 is not near as bad as
the S&B MTC in this regard but I did experience some miscounted clicks on
it and had to break position to look up at the knob on it. This is something
you very easily note when you are assessing the tracking on a humbler device
but might actually fail to notice in the field, leading you mistakenly
attributing a missed shot to another cause. I mention all of this because
people will like the feel of these turrets. They will say things like, ‘they
feel very positive and adjust with a pleasing amount of force’. Perhaps Meopta
has done them just right for the market. It certainly doesn’t pay to tell your
customers they are wrong and people seem to like “clicky” feeling
turrets. My thoughts are that I miscounted clicks on these very nice feeling
turrets and I never miscount on nasty, squishy feeling ones.
Now on to the tracking. The first thing to note in the
tracking of the Meopta is that there is some slop due to the locking turret
design. Internally, there is some sort of spline sleeve that allows the outer
part of the adjustment mechanism to raise and lower to lock and unlock whereas
the inner portion contains the adjustment threading. In this design, the outer
portion also contains the click detents. As such, it is the outer portion that
you can both see and feel. You cannot see or feel that there is just a little
movement in that spline sleeve joint. The effect of this is that there is about
.07 mils of slop in the system. So you might adjust up 6.0 mils on the knob and
have the reticle at 6.0 mils on target. Then, you reverse and go down to 5.9
mils on the knob but your reticle will be at 5.97, having moved only .03 mils
because of the slop. So, whenever you are adjusting up, your adjustments will
always read .07 mils higher than when you’re adjusting back. This is a bit
annoying, mostly because it means that whenever you reverse direction for a
shot adjustment, you get less magnitude of adjustment than you think. I
understand this is a common behavior for locking turret designs. The windage,
which does not lock, does not display this behavior.
Now for the tracking. Going up from optical zero, the scope
tracked clean to 6.0 mils. At that point it starts to loose little by little.
At 13.9 mils on the adjustments the scope has optically moved 14.0 mils. It
adjusts a total of 15.7 mils up from optical zero. Of course, going back it is
+.07 mils reticle position at each knob reading.
Going down from optical zero, the adjustments go to 18.0
mils. Going down they actually look good at that 10 mils but, of course, when
you reverse and go back up, the .07 mil slop now makes it look like you’re a
Overall, this means that the adjustments are quite well
calibrated, notwithstanding the .07 mil of slop you have because of the locking
turret. They are never off by more than .1 mil from what they read. The scope
shows a 33.7 mils total elevation adjustment, but remember that the use of the
zero stop will limit you to a maximum of about 28 mils.
Going left to right on the windage turret that does not have
the locking feature, you notice no slop. It adjusts cleanly for the 4 mils each
way I have on the target and has a total range of 17.0 mils right from center
and 17.3 mils left.
Testing for lash in the parallax adjustment of scopes is not
one of my regular procedures but I noticed it while shooting with this scope so
I have fully investigated. For those who don’t know, lash in the parallax knob
refers to when there is enough slop in linkage inside the scope that adjusts
for parallax that it can noticeably shift position under recoil. Important to
this is that the movement will only occur if you adjusted one way (typically
coming up to your distance from minimum focus distance) and not the other
(coming down to your distance from infinity focus distance.) This is because
the slop basically represents the internals shifting from one side of their
adjustment channel to the other. If they start on the side they would be
shifting to, they have nowhere to go. On this Meopta, if you focus up from min
distance to your range you will notice that after a number of rounds fired you
have gone from zero reticle movement with head bob to about .06 mil of movement
because the parallax has shifted a little. There is no shift if you adjusted
from infinity down to your range.
To round out the mechanical testing of the Meopta, no reticle shift occurred with change in power, diopter adjustment, or parallax adjustment. So, all good on those tests. I would say there is a trend to all of the mechanical observations on the Meopta Optika6. That trend is that the mechanisms were all calibrated and working properly but there was a little bit of play in them. Realistically, this is not going to effect the use of the scope for long range shooting or hunting. You won’t fire enough rounds at the same range to move the parallax even if it was adjusted the direction that has a little slop. Similarly, the slop in the elevation adjustment due to the locking feature never causes things to be more than .1 mil off. The only way you will notice the slop in these adjustments is if you are testing it on a humbler apparatus such as I did or are shooting many rounds at the same distance.
Summary and Conclusion:
At time of
press the Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is sitting at about $899 from
the various online retailers. It is a very feature rich optic at that price,
having illumination, a locking elevation turret (though, oddly, not windage)
zero stop, and a detachable throw lever. On balance, it is the most feature
rich optic tested in this sub $1k series. You can have it in a variety of
reticle configurations, as well as with MOA instead of mil adjustments, but I
think will be most popular in mil/mil with ILya’s MRAD RD reticle, which is a
credit to the scope. This scope can also feature Meopta’s unique Dichro reticle
technology but does not currently come with this technology in a reticle I
would be interested in (a good mil one).
Optically, the Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP is the least
predictable performer in the lineup, as often landing best or worst in the test
lineup than anywhere in between. On balance, it tends to do better on more
important aspects of performance such as resolution and worse on less important
ones such as barrel distortion. However, it really requires a sunshade in most
conditions to function well and should have included one. I will note here that
at the time of my writing, the sunshade for the 56mm Optika6 is not yet
available and the 56mm MeoStar shade will not fit. In the end, I would say the
Meopta Optika 6 performed above the average of its peers optically, but more in
a Brett Favre way than a Peyton Manning one.
Mechanically, the Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP can be best characterized as sound and properly calibrated but with some slop in the system. Both the elevation adjustment and the parallax adjustment have this slop, which essentially means they behave just slightly differently when adjusted one direction relative to when they are adjusted the other. In the case of the parallax that means it can show a little lash when adjusted from minimum focus distance to our target distance. In the case of the elevation knob you will note about a .07 mil difference at each increment depending on whether you adjusted up to that increment or down. The Meopta MeoPro Optika6 5-30×56 RD FFP really leaves its potential buyer with a lot to think about because so often it excels or lags in such dramatic ways. On balance, though, it excels more than it lags and I think that Meopta will find this first substantial incursion into scopes with precision long range features a rewarding one.
Here is Your Pro and Con Breakdown:
Pros: -Feature rich, 10mil/turn, Zero Stop, Illumination, Locking elevation, Detachable throw lever -ILya’s MRAD RD reticle -Better than average optical performance especially with regard to resolution -Large adjustment range -Tracking and reticle are properly calibrated -Attractive appearance -Good warranty and reputation
Cons: -Really needs a sunshade but does not come with one -Noticeable slop in both elevation adjustment and parallax -Though better than average overall, the optical performance does have some significant low points -The larger, 56mm objective is not translating to better low light performance or a larger eyebox -Complicated zero stop system not well explained by poor manual
Nice optics are really nice to play with. My review choices lean toward the high end simply because I like nice scopes and because I have the opportunity to use them. However, sometimes it is nice to come back to earth and consider scopes that normal people can afford (or are simply willing to pay for).
Earlier today I got a message from a friend of mine asking for my take on Sig Whiskey3 scopes. I was a little surprised because Ted, like me, likes and appreciates high end optics. Most importantly, since he is an avid shooter and hunter, I know that he is willing and able to spend money on high end stuff. I told him that Whiskey3 is a very serviceable scope, but not as good as the more expensive stuff he normally uses. It turned out that there was a little bit of a backstory there.
Apparently, a son of his friend won an inexpensive 243Win Howa 1500 boltgun in a raffle. The gun came with some sort of an el cheapo Nikko-Stirling scope. Since the rifle was going to get shot at most 3-4 times per year, they figured the scope will be good enough. Well, it was shooting 7 inch groups at 100 yards and the zero was moving around. Now, if it was a Remington, I could certainly see this kind of performance as not abnormal, but Howas are very decent rifles and I have never seen one shoot that badly. Still, they did not want to invest money into a rifle shot so seldom, so they stuck with it, and the kid kept on missing his deer during hunting season.
There is a persistent belief out there that in order to get a decent scope, you have to spend a significant amount of money. What is considered significant varies, but it can be anywhere between $800 and $2000 depending on who you talk to. That may have been true at some point, but the overall quality of available riflescopes has really gone up in recent years. Now, if you are looking for a long range precision scope with repeatable turrets, sophisticated FFP reticles, etc, it will still cost you some money (although there are several decent options now under $1k). If all you are looking for is “set and forget” type scope for general purpose hunting you can easily get something in the $200 range that will work quite well. It may not have all the latest features or the best optical quality, but it will be perfectly serviceable. To be clear, optical quality will be quite good, just not as good as the much more expensive stuff. Whiskey3 is one such design. Being in a time crunch (the kid had a hunt planned for a couple of days later), Ted headed over to a local gun store not far from his deer camp, picked up a 4-12×40 Whiskey3 for a bit over $200 and mounted it on a rifle. That is all he did. No bedding, accurizing or any other tricks. The results are in the picture below.
Here is what the rifle looks like now:
I think he even used the same cheap rings that came with the rifle. Now I would recommend switching to something a little sturdier eventually, but the rifle clearly shoots fine as is.
I am going to add a bunch of affiliate links below for various scopes that are along the same basic lines: moderately priced, sturdy and reasonable optically. However, there are more of these out there than I can easily list and I have not tested all of them. I can only comfortably recommend the designs I do have personal familiarity with. Therefore, here are some general guidelines in terms of the configurations to look for if you shopping for a inexpensive hunting scope.
Stick with moderate magnifications: 2-7x, 3-9x, 2.5-10x, etc. Basically, you want something that does not require some sort of side focus or adjustable objective. Stick to moderate objective sizes. Something in the 40-44mm range is a good bet. Tube diameter does not matter for this. 1″ is fine. 30mm is fine. Larger tubes usually command a premium because public perception allows for it, but for this application it does not matter.
Burris Fullfield family of scopes is a good example of fairly simple and serviceable scopes as are Vortex Diamondback. I also like Sightron S2 and aforementioned Sig Whiskey3. Sometimes you can find Meopta MeoPro 3-9×40 in this price range. It is definitely a step above and a really nice design. If you want to do some turret twisting, SWFA SS Classic 6×42 is rock solid for around $300 (a lot less than that during Black Friday). There are, of course others and if you are looking at something I did not mention, add a question below.