Another post prompted by what I saw on the Hide. That place is just a gold mine of discussion topics.
Let’s define, somewhat arbitrarily, what an Ultra Short riflescope is.
The phrase “Ultra Short” was originally coined by S&B and they have been trying to do this the longest. Naturally, there is a whole slew of cheap crappy optics out there that are very short. I am going to ignore those.
In principle, how short you can make a scope is a function of how large the objective and ocular lenses are. The larger they are, the harder it is to make scope short. Also, keep in ind that short does not have to mean light.
With that in mind, let’s make some educated guesses on what overall scope length qualifies it to be called UltraShort for different objective lens sizes:
Greater than 50 mm Objective: Under 15″
40 to 50 mm Objective: Under 13″
30 to 39 mm Objective: Under 11″
Under 30mm Objective: Under 9″ (March 1-8×24 Shorty, Nightforce NX8)
I reserve the right to make changes once I do some more research on the subject…
If you have been following my random ramblings for any length of time, you will note that my preferred mode of operation is to pick a particular configuration and approximate price range and compare a good number of scopes that fit those two criteria side by side.
This is not going to be one of those.
The sorta undisputed king of the tactical hill in the 1-8x scope world in the last year or two was Minox ZP8. March 1-8×24 with side focus has been out for a bit, but it seems to appeal to a somewhat different customer. Last year, Nightforce released their 1-8×24 ATACR going largely after the same crowd. S&B now also has their FFP/DFP 1-8x scope and I have a suspicion some other companies are going to join the fray. I intend to gloss over this group almost entirely since I do not see myself spending in the neighborhood of $3k for a low power variable optic (LPVO). Do not get me wrong, these are excellent design, but somehow it is easier for me to spend that kind of money on a long range precision scope and even that is getting to be a more difficult decision as mid-range stuff keeps getting better. Now, as we get into the sub-$2k range, I sorta perk up. I really want to be in the $1k range, but I am willing to pay a little more if it gets me a little more. When I set out to put this article together, I wanted to explore this $1k to $2k range and since I was not able to get my hands on everything I wanted, I suspect I will revisit it again in 2019.
I saw the new March Shorty 1-8×24 at SHOT and thought it was an interesting idea. The guys from March were adventurous enough to loan me one. I have a lot of mileage with their larger 1-8×24 that has side-focus, so the Shorty without the side-focus was really interesting to look at. I am really impressed by March engineering, although there are some questionable decision there from product configuration standpoint (in other words I am very impressed with what the technical people at Deon accomplished, while being a little mystified by some marketing driven decisions).
Same for the GPOTAC 1-8×24 from German Precision Optics. They really should know better than letting me loose on a new product, but I think that bravery will ultimately work out well for them. I think they’ve got a good thing going there. As always, I have some things to complain about, but overall, it is a very solid scope.
Burris XTR II 1-8×24 has been my go to scope in this category since I can actually afford it, so I added it to the mix.
HiLux CMR8 is a lot less expensive, but I have it, so while it does not really belong in this group, it was interesting to see how it fits in. I also had Hawke Frontier 1-6×24 on hand, so you will see it in some reticle pictures. It is a SFP scope, so it is an entirely different animal, but it is an exceptionally nice scope for the money and it was useful to have it as sort of a counterpoint: “if you do not need FFP, you can save some money” sort of thing.
Nightforce essentially told me to go F myself when I asked them for a loaner of the NX8. That was unfortunate since it would have been interesting to test next to the March. Usually, a manufacturer tells me to take a hike if they are afraid of bad publicity, implying there is something wrong with the product. However, I am not aware of any major NX8 issues, and I did have a brief hands on with it on someone else’s gun. I will have to get my hands on one for a thorough review at some point via other means.
I am familiar with the Trijicon Accupower and PA Platinum, which is why you see them in the table below, but I did not have them on hand for this comparison. With the PA, they have a new reticle I was impressed with coming out (Griffin Mil), so I will secure one when it is available. Accupower is not my favourite design, so I am not going to spend more time on it.
Burris XTR II 1-8×24
Trijicon Accupower 1-8×28
HiLux CMR8 1-8×26
Nightforce NX8 1-8×24 (new)
GPO TAC 1-8×24
PA Platinum 1-8×24
March 1-8×24 “Shorty”
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
4 – 3.5
4 – 3.9
3.98 – 3.83
3.4 – 3.9
105 – 12.5
109 – 13.1
114.8 – 14.5
106 – 13
107 – 13
105.8 – 13.25
105.8 – 13.2
12 – 3
11.8 – 3.5
16.6 – 3.2
7.9 – 3
12 – 3
11.7 – 3
9.6 – 3
Adjustment per turn
Looking at the specs, NX8 and March Shorty really stand out for their compact size and light weight, although GPOTAC is also pretty good with weight. Other than March and CMR8, all the other scopes here are made in Japan, buy LOW. I am guessing the NX8 may have some US assembly in it. GPO adds the illumination module to their scopes in Germany. March is made by Deon in Japan and CMR8 is a HiLux product made in their factory in China.
Right off hand, CMR8 is not as good optically as the rest of these. It is pretty decent for the money though. I mostly added it in to show what you get for your money. I will say that mechanically, CMR8 is working quite well including a stint on my 458 SOCOM that has killed a few scopes here and there. Generally speaking, all of the scopes here were tested on a 5.56 chambered AR-15.
Before I talk about each individual design, I would like to spend some time on reticles. I mounted the scopes on a tripod and took some pictures through them. The pictures are handheld with a cellphone, so they are not designed to tell you anything about image quality. The church in the background is more than 700 yards away. They are all variations on “primary aiming point inside a circle” theme which I happen to like. CMR8 has a floating dot and a mrad grid inside a circle along with some choke style rangefinders around it. The whole arrangement turned out a little busier than I would have liked, but I like it conceptually and if I had a chance to re-design it, I’d keep the grid, but make it thinner.
March has two concentric circles (they also have another reticle that has only one circle) and an aiming crosshair inside the smaller circle along with the a mil-scale outside it. For some inexplicable reason, the lines in the primary aiming crosshair are quite thick. I am guessing it has something to do with how they illuminate it, but in practice, I would have preferred a small floating crosshair or a dot inside the circle (the scope I used had FMC-2 reticle; their FMC1 has liens that are twice thinner, so the reticle I would want is a combination of the two: FMC-2 circles with FMC-1 crosshair). One of the reasons to get a LPV scope that goes up to 8x is to extend the engagement distance a bit, so a smallish primary aiming point is a good idea. Basically, you want the circle for speed and the dot or crosshair for precision. The reticle in the GPO hets the precision part right, but the circle is fairly small (it is a little hard to see in the 8x picture below, but in real life it is nicely visible at higher mags). GPO’s illumination is continuously variable, so it is excellent in low light. On the scope I had it did not get very bright (I played with a prototype illumination module that did not get as bright as production models). XTR II reticle is very well done in terms of line thicknesses and is the only design here that has a BDC reticle inside a circle. I would prefer a mrad-based design, but it works well enough (as I said this is sort of my reference standard in this category in terms of bang for the buck).
Here is what they look like side by side. With CMR8, the larger circle is outside the FOV at 8x which I like. With March, I think the two circles inside the FOV at 8x is a bit much, but the reticle is quick to use and very visible without without illumination. Other than the thickness of the center crosshair, I really like this reticle. Also note the tapered bars that really help as you go down in magnification.
The next picture below shows the same four scopes at 4x, 5x and 6x. I am also showing the reticle of the SFP Hawke Frontier for comparison. On the CMR8, the large outer circle gets into the FOV and blocks quite a bit of it. With March, the tapered bars start looking more prominent, but the dual circle center arrangement looks to be about the right size for quick target engagement. GPOTAC reticle again looks thinner in the picture than it really is, but in general, as you go down in magnification, it has to rely more on illumination than the other scopes here. XTR II’s 10 mrad circle remains a really good compromise between precision and speed.
As you go further down in magnification, the GPO scope becomes harder to use without illumination. I talked to them about it and the basically said that the 1-8x is more of a general purpose design, while the 1-6x is going to be a little more optimized for speed and AR use with a bolder reticle. Honestly, I think they should add some other reticle options to the 1-8x, but even with the pre-production illumination module it worked pretty well for me in anything but the brightest light, so I am not going to complain too much. WIth March, as you get to 1x you begin to really see why those tapered bars are there. Wisely, the guys at March kept the bars from going all the way to the edge on 1x. That leaves the aiming structure floating in the center and it really works well. With CMR8, that big outer circle keep the reticle visible, but I still think it is thicker than it should be. Also, keep in mind that the XTR II reticle is perfectly usable without illumination on 1x; much more so than the picture indicates.
Now, let’s talk a little about how these scopes compare in other ways. First of all, I have not spent a whole lot of time checking tracking. I did some minimal elevation tracking checks and they all seemed to do fine. Generally, with scopes of this type, I prefer to not mess with the turrets, so I want them either covered or locking, which all of these were, except for March. The Shorty came with March’s excellent low profile tactical knobs. These are some of my favourite turrets, but I think they are a little out of place on this scope. I would feel more secure with a covered design. I brought this up with my March contact, but he disagreed and said that he has never heard of their turrets being bumped. Personally, I think March marketing people needs to spend more time with 3-Gunners and other AR people. That would give them a better grasp of this side of the market.
All of the scopes here stayed zeroed once zeroed and I really have no complaints about the quality and feel of the physical controls. Subjectively, March has the crispest feel to the mechanics here, but I have always liked how March does the mechanics, so there is no surprise there.
In terms of optical quality, this ended up being a bit of a tricky comparison because of parallax and depth of field. First of all, the CMR8 is clearly the weakest product here, but also the least expensive. The guys at HiLux said that they are working on fixing some of the distortion, so it should get better and at the time of this writing, it probably is (I need to check). Most of the side by side was done with the Burris, GPO and March.
Before I talk about optics, note how short the March is. It is difficult to make very short optics and the complaints I have about March’s optical system are a direct consequence of making it very short.
As an optical system, overall, I probably like GPO the most in this group. However, if you stay in the 75-200 yard range, March has better resolution at a similar contrast. Between 200 and 400 yards, the optical performance of the three scopes is pretty close. Once you get beyond 400 yards, the Shorty falls a bit behind the other designs here. At closer distances, the Shorty also suffers if you stay at 8x, but dialing down magnification really helps and at closer distance with scopes like these, I always dial down anyway. Basically, if I never shoot beyond 350-400 yards, Shorty is the better optical design. However, if I never extend the distance, I might as well save some money and get a 1-6x. All three of these scopes have fixed parallax at 100 yards or so. Because it is so short, the March Shorty has really shallow depth of field, so it loses some resolution at longer distances as you get further away from its optimal focus. For the same reason, it seemed to pick up parallax error faster than the other two. Significantly faster. At longer distances, both Burris and GPO were a lot friendlier. Interestingly, while XTR II and GPOTAC are both made by LOW and are likely related designs, GPOTAC had better DOF (depth of field) and less prominent parallax error at longer distances. Still, XTR II acquitted itself rather well.
Flare was not very prominent with any of theses, although March had a bit more of it than the other two. It comes with a sunshade that really helped, but it does make the scope longer (picture a bit further down).
With scopes that go down to 1X, the ease of getting behind the scope and a wide flat FOV (Field Of View) are really important and all three of these are quite good. March has just a touch more distortion than Burris (and GPO is slightly better still) toward the edges as you move your eye laterally behind the eyepiece, but it is very reasonable. I spent a fair amount of my time with these scopes shooting off hand and shooting quickly. I can see the differences between when I carefully look for them, but in practical terms there wasn’t enough to worry about or make a difference. Whatever difference was there likely was driven by reticle variations more than anything else.
Overall, I am pretty impressed with this scope, except, as previously mentioned, with reticle visibility at 1x. I would have liked to see some tapered lines and thicker horseshoe or something similar that would make the reticle stand out more at 1x. Also, since the scope I looked at is a prototype of some sort with illumination that is not as bright as on production models, I should probably revisit it with a full production illumination module some time.
It is really a very good general purpose 1-8x design and its only real weakness is performance on 1x in bright light which is reticle related. Most scopes of this type have discreet illumination steps. GPOTAC illumination module is continuously variable, which I like a fair bit. In low light, it can be set extremely low, so it does not disturb night adapted eyes.
Another thing I liked was that it was really easy to get behind (same as the XTR II). Eye relief was quite flexible and parallax stayed in check very nicely out to 600 yards which was the extent of how far I took it.
I do not fully understand the need for exposed turrets on a scope of this type, but since they lock in place, I do not have a problem with it.
All in all, GPO 1-8×24 is a pretty good fit for a lot of applications, but for going fast with an AR, there are better reticles out there. Outside of that, I really like this one, although for an AR-15, I do not think I’d be willing to dish out extra $500 for this scope over the optomechanically similar Burris XTR II.
In terms of direct competition price wise, GPOTAC goes head to head against the very popular Nightforce NX8. That is some tough competition. While I am not a Nightforce groupie (there are some Nightforce groupies on every internet forum confidently stating that the reticles of the NX8 is woven from unicorn hair and illuminated by little elves living inside the tube among other nonsense) by any means, NX8 looks impressive on paper being nearly as compact as the March and equipped with extremely bright reticle illumination. The little time I spent with the NX8 suggests that it is a better scope than the GPOTAC on 1x, while GPOTAC seems to be better at 8x. Reticles are in the eye of the beholder. One thing I dislike immensely about the NX8 is the exposed elevation turret. Interestingly, for some inconceivable reason they offer a version with covered turrets, but for LE/Mil only. Still, it costs the same as GPOTAC and is enjoying immense popularity.
March Shorty 1-8×24
As I mentioned earlier, from a technical standpoint, I really like what March has accomplished here and, if you are staying inside of 400 yards, this is an excellent option. The things I take issue with are primarily related to the decisions made by product planners, not by engineering. As a general disclaimer, I took all of my concerns to March before publishing them and while they got a little defensive, they were fairly mature about it. That’s a good thing. I’ve seen people really get their panties in wad after much milder criticism.
Most of my criticism has already been mentioned, so I am not going to rehash it too much: depth of field is shallow and the turrets should be locked or covered. Reticles are in the eye of the beholder.
Interestingly, I really liked this scope as a 1-6x. As a general purpose design, March’s larger 1-8×24 with side focus is a far superior option since adjustable parallax takes care of the bulk of my concerns.
Also, with March scopes, reticle illumination control is a large rubberized button inside the parallax turret. With the Shorty, they use essentially the same turret housing, except it does not rotate since parallax is not adjustable. However, on a tactical scope, a large rubberized pushbutton is not an optimal solution since it is really easy to press accidentally. In addition, March has two illumination modules: Hi and Low. Each has four brightness settings. I have used both and the low module works well in low light, but is not nearly bright enough for anything else. The Hi module is too bright for low light, while still not being bright enough for daylight. It is just right for the dusk. All twenty minutes for it. The saving grace here is that March has a third illumination module that they never talk about for some reason. It is a six position module where the rubberized button is just ON/OFF and there is a rotary lever that lets you choose between six settings. This module has a lot more dynamic range and March should really be shipping the Shorty with it. You can probably request it in this configuration if you are so inclined.
When I summarized my take on the Shorty for the guys at March, it became apparent that while we agree it is a niche product, we disagree on what that niche is. I am perhaps criticizing the Shorty a bit too unfairly, but I think I have to make clear that with all my reticle and DOF complaints, if I could get it with covered or locking turrets, I would have bought the Shorty on the spot with either of the two available reticle (FMC-1 which I slightly prefer is on the left) and with the six position illumination module as pictured below.
March 6 position illumination module
Overall, the scope’s strengths really outweigh its limitations and the only thing that is a real deal breaker for me is the exposed non-locking turret. I know how to deal with the rest of it and I can think of many applications for this design.
That having been said, while I do not think they will listen to me, I would really love to see what March engineers could do if they were tasked with making and ultra compact and light weight 1-6x or 1-5x design. For an ultra light AR carbine with a good barrel, I would comfortably sacrifice a little bit of top end magnification for better DOF, light weight and compactness.
I also like the mounting solution: a single wide ring which makes positioning the scope on the rail very easy. The scope March sent me had the sunshade, covers and cat tail included. I am not sure how it is configured for retail, but if I were to choose the right configuration, I would leave the sunshade in the box and keep the scope short. The more time I spent shooting with the scope the more I appreciated its strengths and ignored the weakness, although I did stay inside of 400 yards for the most part.
Burris XTR II
I have already written about this scope in a different article, so I am not going to say too much here. In the field of 1-8x FFP scopes, this is sort of a “goldilocks” product. It is well priced, very robust, optically good, and comes with a very serviceable reticle. It is my go to scope for an accurate AR-15 carbine that I want to use across the course for everything that the 5.56 cartridge is capable of this side from varmint shooting. It is $500 less expensive than GPOTAC and $800 less expensive than the Shorty, while giving up very little in performance. At some point, I will get it side by side with the Nightforce NX8 to see if the compact size and nuclear bright illumination of the NX8 are sufficient to make me pay the extra money it requires. Maybe there will be something else announced at SHOT that peaks my interest. Until then, the XTR II sits on my AR. The most direct competition for the XTR II comes from Primary Arms Platinum which is likely the same basic scope with a more mall ninja friendly reticle. However, PA does have a mrad based version out and a better Griffin Mil reticle is coming out too. I look forward to testing it side by side with the Burris.
I am fibbing a little. This is not my first look at this scope, since I spent a couple of days with a prototype. However, this the first time I see the production reticle.
I mounted the scope on my light-ish AR chambered for 5.56×45. This gun has very light stock and handguard, but the barrel is not a pencil weight and the receivers and BCG are of standard weight. With the new 2.5-10×32 SS Ultralight in a light Aerotech mount, the whole rifle, with the sling, weighs in at around 7.6lbs. The fact that the scope itself weighs in at less than 10 ounces is kinda cool.
With dedicated light weighted receivers, lighter weight barrel and lighter BCG, I can probably make a nice hunting AR chambered for the Blackout or something similar, weighing in right around 6lbs with the scope. That is an appealing thought right there…
I will spend more time working out the turrets, but my initial impressions are that the tracking is accurate and the feel is surprisingly good for something with covered turrets.
One of the things I check first is if the turrets match the reticle and that is what I did with this scope briefly after sight in. The reticle is a basic plex design with 12MOA opening between the thick lines. I did a quick test of 6MOA adjustment and 12 MOA adjustment with the elevation turret and so far so good.
The reticle is roughly the same thickness as other standard plex reticles out there. Thick line is 0.8MOA and thin line is 0.2MOA at 10x. That is very close to similar reticles from Leupold, Sightron, etc.
I’ll take better reticle pictures when I have the scope on a tripod. These are sorta handheld with a cellphone, so the quality is not great. However, this give you an idea of line thicknesses.
While we are on the subject of reticles, after some harassment, SWFA fessed up that they will add a second reticle to this line-up in a few months, designed to work with 223Rem at 10x. Here is what the reticle will look like:
Upcoming BDC reticle
I’ll run some basic ballistics and see how the BDC works with common AR cartridges. I checked how it does with 223 and it should be spot on with typical 55-60 grain bullets. I will tabulate what I come up with for other AR cartridges. One thing I really like about this design is that the holdover lines are thinner than the primary aiming point. That is a very good compromise between holdover tree and low light visibility. The primary aiming dot is 0.4MOA, the lines to its side and above are 0.3MOA thick and the lines in the holdover tree are 0.2MOA thick. Thick bars are 1.6MOA thick which should make for excellent low light visibility. It looks like a clever enough design and I will spend some time working up how it fits different calibers.
The turrets are capped and resettable with 0.25MOA clickls. Sighting in was very uneventful, which is always a good sign.
One outstanding feature of this scope is the slim eyepiece. Eye relief is a bit on a short side which works well for ARs and micro action bolt guns, but I would not put it on a boomer. Despite comparatively short eye relief (which you need to maintain good FOV with a slim eyepiece), eye relief flexibility is quite good and the scope is rather easy to get behind. I spent some time shooting offhand and sitting and had no problems getting the right sight picture. Generally, the market is not awash in 2.5-10x ultralight scope, so finding comparables was not easy:
SWFA SS Ultralight 2.5-10×32
Sightron S-Tac 2-10×32
Leupold VX-3i 2.5-8×36 (2.6-7.8x actual)
Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32
Sig Whiskey3 2-7×32
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
3.35 – 2.56
4.2 – 3.6
41.2 – 10.5
21 @ 5x
38.4 – 9.1
18.4 @ 5x
37.5 – 13.7
21.4 @ 5x
72.2 – 13.2
21.1 @ 5x
45.4 – 13.1
18.34 @ 5x
Adjustment per turn
Of the scopes in this table, I have the ultralight SS and Razor HD LH on hand, although the most direct competition is Sightron S-Tac and Leupold VX-3i. The new SS is definitely the lightest of the bunch.
Side by side with the Razor HD LH, the Vortex is a better scope optically (as it should be given the price difference), but SSUL is no slouch and resolves well. There is less color pop with it though. The only other 32mm scope I currently have on hand is an older Bushnell Elite 6500 1.25-8×32. The SSUL seems similar to that scope in terms of optics. I’ll do some more testing and see how it all works out.
From a usability standpoint, there is no tunneling of any sort and the scope is easy to get behind, so offhand shooting at 2.5x works quite nicely for me.
Here are the Razor HD LH and SWFA SS UL side-by-side:
SWFA SS UL 2.5-10×32 and Vortex Razor HD LH 1.5-8×32
Note the difference in eyepiece diameters. Another thing to note is that with the SS, I can use two separate rings instead of a single piece mount. With Razor HD LH on an AR, I have to use a single piece mount since it has to be positioned fairly far forward. While in principle it shouldn’t matter much whether you use a since piece mount or two rings, there are a couple of advantages (and disadvantages) to using separate rings. The disadvantage is that the picatinny rail better be machined well. The advantage is that with two separate rings, I can use the scope as a carry handle which is quite convenient. It also frees up a lot of rail space if I want to add a red dot sight at 45 degrees (which I might) or any other accessories.
So far, I like the little scope. Obviously, it being a new design, durability is not yet known, so I will keep track of how these do and beat this one up a little.
David vs. Goliath, East vs. West… the analogies abound, but my goal here is to evaluate these FFP high erector, high magnification juggernauts to find out how they perform and what benefits or drawbacks you can expect to see from the two different designs. The Schmidt & Bender requires no introduction as it has served as the “elite class” of sport optics for many years and while March has been around for a number of years as well, this boutique Japanese manufacturer has most of its loyalists from the F Class division and is wanting to make a bigger impact in the FFP market. This new scope represents the first FFP scope using their new High Master glass.
Please keep in mind that while I try to evaluate each scope based on its own merits, I am human and am prone to err at times. This review is not intended to be exhaustive as both these scopes are on loan and I only have limited time to evaluate. My goal with this review is to evaluate mechanical functionality which is different from mechanical accuracy, you should always conduct your own tests to ensure mechanical accuracy when you purchase a scope.
The very first difference is immediately obvious in the image above, once you pull them from the package, the Schmidt is ginormous while the March is smaller than many 5-25 scopes today (hence the David vs. Goliath reference) and while one might immediately gravitate towards the shorter scope there are some pros and cons which are discussed later on when combining high magnification erectors with short body (or short focal length) designs.
Keep in mind this evaluation is based on my own personal observations based on what my eyes “see” when looking through the scope. My eyes are very sensitive to CA for example while some people cannot or have difficulty seeing CA when looking through the same scope. The point is that everyone’s eyes are different, and my observations will undoubtedly be different from others. That being said I try to be as objective as possible but, like all of us, do have my bias’s but try my best to keep my reviews as unbiased as I can. It should also be noted that I am not paid by anyone to do these reviews, this started years ago on Snipers Hide when I was trying to choose a light weight tactical scope that performed well in low light situations, recommendations covered high and low and ultimately I decided the only way to know for sure was to get all the scopes that fell within my criteria and see for myself (personal observation), sure I lost some money in it, but had decided that was worth the cost vs. getting a scope that ultimately would not satisfy my requirements.
I would like to thank March scopes in Japan for providing the March 5-42×56 High Master scope and Eurooptic.com for providing the Schmidt & Bender 5-45×56 High Power for this review. If either of these scopes interest you I recommend checking them out at Eurooptic using the following links:
The below specs are provided by the manufacturers which makes a good baseline of what these scopes offer.
As mentioned previously, the most notable difference comes in size, the Schmidt represents the traditional “long” scope design while the March represents the newer trend of “short” scope designs. But other areas of note are:
Weight: The Schmidt is a half-pound heavier
Field of view (FOV): March uses a 26° wide angle eyepiece offering greater FOV throughout the magnification range
Turret Clicks: Schmidt uses .05 mil clicks while March uses .1 mil clicks
Total Elevation Adjustment: March offers 13 mils more total elevation
Close focus distance: Schmidt has a decent 30m while March offers down to 10 yards
One other area of note is that while March is using mrad (milliradian) for the gradation values (like most other scopes in this class), Schmidt is using CM (centimeter) value; the clicks and values can be converted to the same, but you have to divide the Schmidt’s numbers by 10 in order to get the mrad equivalent – so 5 becomes .5 mrad and 60 becomes 6 mrad and so forth. Another reason why I do not like this method of measurement is that it gives the impression that the click value is linear when in fact it is angular – it serves to confuse between inches and centimeters vs. mrad and moa which are completely different.
As I mentioned above this review does not cover the accuracy of each scope but covers the functionality – since any manufacturer is capable of producing a lemon it’s always a good idea to test your scope to ensure its accuracy.
Schmidt & Bender DT II+ turrets
This is my first experience with the new Schmidt DT II+ and having used both the standard PM II turrets and Ultra Short turrets in the past, Schmidt has knocked this one out of the park, not just in terms of feel but with very little to no play and very distinct clicks. While the Schmidt offers only 6 mrad per revolution, each click is actually only .05 mrad in spacing so you are getting the same amount of clicks per rev as a standard turret with 12 mrad per rev, so while each click is half as fine as the standard .1 mrad turret the spacing is still very manageable. I believe Schmidt’s ultimate goal with this scope is the ELR crowd and when shooting 2000+ yards the finer adjustments will come in handy especially if dialing for wind. One other type of shooting both the magnification and finer adjustments will come in handy for is rimfire competition, but the sheer size of this scope will intimidate any short barreled rimfire rifle. The added benefit of the DT II+ system is you have a lever for both elevation and windage that allows 3 settings: Locked, Unlocked with MTC and Unlocked without MTC (for those who may not know, MTC stands for More Tactile Clicks which means every full mrad value the click is stiffer than the rest providing a “more tactile” response). When in the locked position there is no play or movement in the turret. It should be noted that I had issue with previous generation MTC turrets, the full mil stronger click was so strong it would cause me to inadvertently overtravel by .1-.2 clicks coming out or going back which if I had a solution of 5.1 mils I would overtravel to 5.2 or 5.3 and would then have to dial back causing delay; however, the DT II+ MTC has rectified that and feels like the ideal weight without having to jump forward to get out of the full mrad value. Someone at Schmidt has been paying attention! The turrets are very tall but fit well ergonomically with the overall size of the scope and the top of the housing has a lighthouse window which displays the number for the revolution you are currently on. The Schmidt turrets are non-translatable which means the turret does not rise or fall when spinning through the different revolutions – I tend to prefer this method. I would rate these turrets as the best yet from Schmidt and Bender and arguably close to Tangent Theta in quality.
March FFP High Master turrets
When I first heard I was going to get the opportunity to test the new March 5-42×56 High Master I was mostly looking forward to seeing how this new “High Master” glass looked compared to previous March glass. Having reviewed the March 3-24×42 and 3-24×52 FFP scopes previously and being impressed with the glass and build quality coming from Japan I was anxious to see what improvements they could make, but what I was not expecting was the quality of the new locking turrets provided with the new March scope. The turrets available on the 3-24 left much to be desired but get the job done, landing on their appropriate marks consistently but with a bit of play followed by a mushy feeling. The new turrets leave the play and mushiness in the dust and offer one of the nicest and most distinct clicks I’ve felt in a long range scope; click values come in the standard .1 mrad per click and 10 mrads per turn. Not only are the clicks superb but you’ll also notice the face of both the elevation and windage turrets which share a lever with a blue and red dot, blue means unlocked and red means lock and one flip of the switch to locked and there is no play, no movement whatsoever, the turret is frozen in time until you move it back. The turrets are of the translatable kind which means the turret housing itself will rise and fall depending on the direction you spin the turret; my preference is for non-translatable turrets but this is more personal preference as both do the same thing. On the flip side of the windage turret comes an anomaly with the inclusion of a locking mechanism for the parallax wheel, I have not seen a great need from the community asking for this feature but it is there nonetheless in case you are one of the few who find yourself accidentally bumping your parallax out of alignment. The final unique feature about this turret design is the zero stop which March is calling “0-set” and is done using a hex key at the top of the elevation turret, a novel approach – after you reset zero using the side hex bolts, you can set your zero stop anywhere you’d like but it is a tension stop and not a mechanical stop in that if you really crank the turret hard you can move past the stop point; for those who rely on predictable zero stop in low light situations this may be something that takes some getting used to.
Turret Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
This is more or less a personal preference, but my hand feels better with wider spacing. Tangent Theta is the best I have felt from a 15 mil per rev turret while the Nightforce has one of the best 12 mil turrets in the ATACR series and the Schmidt DT II+ aligns with the ATACR as some of the best 120 click per rev turrets, but I must admit I think I like the new March turrets best of all with the distinct clicks of each .1 mil value and 10 mil per rev spacing. The Schmidt is not far behind though giving up very little to the feel and functionality of the March.
This can be very subjective, but I am drawn to more distinct click sounds with very little play between marks, the March has very distinct clicks with very little play, the Schmidt is slightly less distinct with slightly tighter spacing but very little play.
Both Schmidt and March turrets aligned perfectly through my testing running the turret out to the extreme and back. Because of the March’s translatable design, it does rise pretty high above the center mark which gives a slight perception you are off mark if your eye is not perfectly centered.
Turret Reset Zero and Zero Stop – Tie: March – 8 | Schmidt – 8
In order to reset zero on both scopes you have to loosen the side hex bolts on the turret housing, then spin the turret to align zero and re-tighten, this is typical of most long range scopes today and is only bested by the toolless design of the Tangent Theta turrets. Schmidt comes with a factory preset zero stop while March offers the hex key adjustable zero stop mechanism. I wish more manufacturers would come out with toolless designs or offer a convenient hex key in the turret housing like Kahles. There is definitely room for improvement from all manufacturers.
Both Schmidt and March offer a locking mechanism, the Schmidt places theirs at the back of each turret while March places theirs on the top of each turret. Both are rock solid when in the locked position but the Schmidt offers one feature the March does not have with the MTC option.
Total Travel Adjustment – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 8
For an ELR scope the Schmidt seems to be shortchanged a bit in the elevation department, especially with other scopes from the manufacturer offering 35 mrad of travel, the 5-45 only has 27 mrad of travel; however, at .05 mrad per click it is double the clicks of traditional .1 mrad click scopes. The March on the other hand offers a class leading 40 mrad of elevation which is going to be appreciated by the ELR crowd. On the windage side the March offers over double the travel of the Schmidt with 14.8 mrad of travel vs. Schmidt’s 6 mrad.
Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization. I would rank these turrets as among the best available today. It should be noted that the Schmidt has the windage zero offset at the 11 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position, this does make it a little difficult to identify where true zero is if you dial elevation, if you hold elevation it may not be that big of a deal.
Mag Ring, Parallax, Diopter and Illumination Mechanical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Magnification Ring Movement – Advantage March: March – 9 | Schmidt – 8
While the Schmidt boasts a greater 9x magnification range vs. 8.4x on the March, the magnification throw is much wider and my particular model exhibited a slight rough feel while the March throw was shorter and very smooth throughout the entire range. Of note is that the Schmidt increases magnification in a CCW direction while the March is the opposite in the CW direction.
Parallax knob Movement – Tie: March – 9 | Schmidt – 9
Both March and Schmidt exhibited very smooth parallax adjustment, March has a locking mechanism on the parallax which is a first I’ve seen and the jury is still out on whether or not this is actually a benefit.
Schmidt has numbers marked while March has a symbol indicating smaller to larger. Schmidt had more forgiving parallax when transitioning between objects both far and near while the March had to be “fine-tuned” in order to correct for parallax. One must be aware that parallax correction does not always equate to an in-focus image so time was taken to ensure parallax was correctly adjusted for.
Schmidt still uses an illumination tumor that is separate from the turret housing while almost every other manufacturer has gone to putting the illumination settings in line with the parallax adjustment. March is using a rubber cover over a push button for on/off functionality with numbers 1-6 on the dial while Schmidt uses a rheostat style to go from off to full power.
Both the Schmidt & Bender DT II+ and new March High Master turrets offer superb mechanical design, fit and finish on both are outstanding and worthy of alpha class categorization. I would rank these turrets as among the best available today.
One of the most difficult areas to ascertain with any manufacturer is the quality of glass they use in a given scope model, or rather, how the image looks to the shooters eye when viewing the FOV through the scope. Traditionally when it comes to optics one generally “gets what they pay for” and hence the higher end optics tend to have the higher end prices; however, with new design technologies we’ve seen some scopes punch above their weight class. It is impossible to take images through the scope to show the quality of the image to the naked eye, this is because any image taking system also has its own lens system which introduces its own optical aberrations and if the system is better aligned on one scope verses another it may throw off values, so you will not see any through the scope images because I do not want to skew opinion based on IQ of one image over another. So for this evaluation I took meticulous notes based on my naked eye observations under as best controlled conditions I could get outdoors.
Optical Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
Looking through both scopes at distance (1000 yards) you are often dealing with atmospherics that can wreak havoc for any optical system, both these scopes performed very well out to 1000 yards, so well that I had to throw up my resolution chart and evaluate line resolution at close range so atmospherics had minimal effect, when testing in these conditions the center resolution victor became clear, the March was able to resolve about 10% better than the Schmidt throughout the magnification range above 10x.
The Schmidt had the clear advantage in edge to edge sharpness throughout the magnification range. The sweet spot for the Schmidt appeared to be in the 5-20x magnification range while the sweet spot for the March was between 20-25x. March is utilizing a brand new 26° wide angle eyepiece that offers and HD viewing experience similar to the ZCO with very thin outer edges while looking through the scope, but as a result of this wide angle design one of the effects is the edge distortion which is apparent throughout the magnification range – one of the drawbacks to such enormous FOV and a tradeoff the shooter will have to decide.
When I bought my March 3-24×52 I currently owned a Schmidt ultra short 5-20 and was surprised to find the March, with its 8x erector design, faired very well in color/contrast to the Schmidt’s 4x erector design. Likewise, with the new High Master scope I was surprised to see that the March does very well with maintaining contrast and color and doing so better than the Schmidt up until 25x, at 20x the Schmidt exhibited what appeared to be flare while the March in the same conditions held a very strong image, at 25x and higher both scopes showed increased degradation in color and contrast.
A hotly debated topic – CA, which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target but can affect the clarity of the target. One situation I noticed is that while the March maintained excellent control over center CA I was able to observe more CA towards the edges, I believe this may have to do more with the wide angle eyepiece due to the curvature of the lens – sacrifice a bit of CA and sharpness to gain greater FOV is the tradeoff here. One other area is CA sensitivity with lateral movement off the center of the scope, you can quickly induce CA in these situations which are often rectified by proper cheekweld/eye placement behind the center of the scope. Up to 15x both scopes handled CA very well both center and edge, but above 15x the Schmidt showed better control of edge CA most likely due to the more traditional (longer) scope tube and resulting optical formula. The March suffered most with edge CA and some CA in certain conditions were observable around the black reticle and numbers.
Depth of Field (DOF) – Advantage Schmidt: March – 7 | Schmidt – 9
The Schmidt has extraordinary DOF, objects outside of the plane of focus maintain sharpness and detail for quite a distance, the March is not as forgiving and has to be dialed a lot more with finesse of the parallax wheel – fine adjustments are necessary and both ends of the magnification range with the sweet spot coming between 20-25x offering the most forgiveness. With the Schmidt it wasn’t until about 30x that DOF began to fall off some.
Field of View (FOV) – Advantage March: March – 10 | Schmidt – 9
For the longest time the scopes that boasted some of the widest FOV have been the Optronika inspired class of 5-25×56 scopes (e.g. Tangent Theta, Minox ZP5 and Premier Heritage) but when Schmidt introduced the 5-45×56 a few years ago it took the crown in the long range scope market, but the new March 5-42×56 High Master with its 26° eyepiece is the new king of the hill. Even the new Nightforce NX8 and Burris XTR III series with their impressive FOV numbers can’t really compete leaving the March in a category unto its own. Outside of the specs which offer FOV numbers at the low and high magnification settings, at 15x I was able to determine on both scopes how many mils could be viewed. The following numbers are from center so to get the full FOV value just multiply x2:
FOV values from center to edge
Eyebox – Tie: March – 8 | Schmidt – 8
I have seen varied definitions of eyebox in the community, so to be clear, here is my definition which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope. Both the March and the Schmidt showed decent eyebox forgiveness through about 30x with both getting more finicky at higher magnifications. The March seemed to have a slight edge in eyebox forgiveness around 25x.
To be honest, I did not spend much time with these scopes in low light situations but both of them showed impressive results after the sun went down, the March seemed to maintain a slight bit more color fidelity while both scopes were “bright” when magnification was set appropriately.
The Schmidt has a brilliant image from edge to edge with excellent color and contrast while the March has some edge distortion but makes up for it with higher center resolution and brilliant color, possibly the best color/contrast I’ve seen. The Schmidt manages CA slightly better while the March offers enormous FOV throughout the magnification range. The Schmidt has very forgiving DOF while the March is more finicky requiring a lot more adjustment of the side focus setting. The Goldilocks zone (superb optical performance) for the Schmidt was between 5-20x while the March was between 20-25x during my testing.
Special Note on Resolution: As mentioned previously the center resolution between both scopes appeared very close during my normal testing so I decided to throw up my resolution chart at close range (to minimize atmospheric interference) and see how many lines my eyes could differentiate before they blended together, as you can see in the chart below as you move from left to right the lines get closer together, with each scope I would place the optical center/crosshair where the lines began to blur together and I would note which section that occurred.
The results were surprising because the March was the clear winner at every magnification, and you’ll notice there was some falloff with the Schmidt above 30x where resolution actually dropped with 35x exhibiting the worst performance throughout the range. So I had to ask myself why, during normal testing, did it appear the Schmidt may have been sharper and I believe that because the Schmidt has better edge to edge sharpness it tricked my eyes into thinking the overall image was as sharp or sharper than the March. I think further testing is necessary with equipment beyond what I have available to me to more accurately assess the lp/mm but the below chart shows what I saw with my eyes; keep in mind these are indicative of the units I had on hand and sample variance could have an effect on results for your individual scope.
Resolution Chart Results
RETICLE & ILLUMINATION
One of the most important choices one can make in a long range scope today is the reticle, this is, after all, what you will see every single time you bring the scope to your eye so it’s important to make sure that it fits the needs or your shooting style. That being said, reticle selection or preference is extremely subjective and saying Brand X reticle is “the best” is like saying “Brand X vanilla ice cream is the best” – we all have different tastes and the good news is that there are many, many options available to the long range community. With this in mind, my ratings below should be taken with a grain of salt because they are based on MY preference, but I will explain what I like and why, which should help you understand if it might be something you would like or not like even though I may have a differing opinion.
Reticle & Illumination Assessment criteria (rating 1-10 with 1 being worst and 10 being best):
The reticle in the March is their new FML-TR1 which is a superb design created by none other than the Dark Lord of Optics himself. The reticle provided in the Schmidt is their new LRR-MIL design. Both are a newer .2 mil hash design with the TR1 offering a Christmas tree and the LRR with no tree but a ranging grid. The LRR-MIL is thin, we’re talking very thin, thinner than the SCR2 Mil reticle in the new Burris XTR III which I thought was too thin, the center dot all but disappears unless the background is a solid light color, like a target painted white. I do not like the sentences written in the reticle and the ranging grid takes up a lot of space. Reticle was unusable below 15x. The FML-TR1 on the other hand has become my favorite reticle, everything is based off .2 mil distance, even the gaps so you always know it’s .2 mil. When I first saw the specs for the reticle, I was worried the center would be too thick, but it is ideal in my book offering the perfect balance and allowing it to be usable even at 5x. The Christmas tree is made up of small dots and practically disappears if you’re not using it which is how I prefer tree reticles.
Illumination Color and Brightness – Advantage Schmidt: March – 6 | Schmidt – 8
Both scopes offer red illumination as the only option. Schmidt has always had lackluster performance when it comes to brightness, but sufficient for low light engagements, previous March scopes have been about on par with neither offering a “daylight” bright reticle. But that has changed with the Schmidt 5-45, this is the brightest illumination I’ve seen from the German manufacturer and is usable during daylight, while the March has improved on previous performance but still does not deliver a daylight bright illumination out of their module, although it is ample for low light situations. Both scopes did not exhibit any noticeable bleed in very low light but both designs only illuminate the very center cross of the design.
The Schmidt LRR-Mil seems optimized for purely ELR and/or rimfire work where precision is of utmost importance, for me personally I found the reticle to be too thin in almost every situation. The FML-TR1 on the other hand feels at home for just about any situation, the center may be a bit too think for some tastes with ELR or if you shoot .17 caliber primarily but one benefit is that once you move out of the center (like you would if holding wind) the rest of the reticle is more thin. My personal opinion is that the FML-TR1 is the best crossover reticle I’ve seen yet and by crossover, I mean it is as much at home on a competition long range rifle as it is on a hunting rig whereas the LRR-Mil I would never consider for a hunting application.
Schmidt continues to excel with traditional designs in long range scopes, clearly they have some of the best glass and best fit and finish of any scope on the market; however, the “long” scope is getting just that… putting a scope the size of a baseball bat on your rifle is falling out of favor especially with the competition crowd; the newer shorter scope designs are beginning to take hold within the marketplace and the March offers almost the same magnification while reducing size and weight considerably. Schmidt really needs to get rid of that illumination tumor and free up more space on the tube for mounting options and while the new DT II+ turrets are the best from Schmidt to date the overall ergonomic winner is March with its short body and astonishingly good locking turrets, the scope looks at home on any rifle from short covert styles to the beastly ELR rigs.
FIT & FINISH
Overall Fit & Finish Assessment – Advantage Schmidt: March – 8.5 | Schmidt – 9 (10 points possible)
As good as the March is in overall craftsmanship, and it is superb… the best I’ve seen from Japan, earning it a spot in the ranks of alpha class scopes that are dominated by European craftsmanship, I do have to give the nod to Schmidt & Bender with overall fit and finish. Quality reeks from this scope everywhere you look, the smoothness of each mechanical feature, the precise fit of every single part abounds with the precision that German manufacturing is known for. All that being said March has their own set of impeccable crafts-men and women who are hand assembling each and every scope, if Schmidt gets a 9 then March is hot on their heals with an 8.5, we are truly splitting hairs when it comes to the fit and finish of each of these scopes – as it should be with the alpha class.
Most knowledgeable shooters are aware that the alpha class of sport optics is not cheap, you’re guaranteed to pay in the thousands for these top quality optics, but the March and Schmidt scopes really push the wallet to the limit. MSRP for the March comes in at $4200 while the Schmidt is at $5650! Street price you can expect to pay less, check with eurooptic.com for the best price available.
Final Score – Advantage March: March – 205.5 | Schmidt – 198 (out of 240 possible points)
The final results are very close and I could easily see any one shooter choosing one scope over the other. But at the end of the day the March just has so much going for it: less expensive, shorter, lighter, more ergonomic with superb turrets, High Master glass with amazing color/contrast and outstanding center resolution with an industry leading FOV, and throw in a fantastic new reticle in the FML-TR1. The Schmidt bests the March in several areas including edge to edge sharpness, overall fit and finish, MTC clicks DOF and forgiving parallax. The Schmidt also separates itself by being a dedicated ELR or rimfire scope while the March seems to be more of a “one size fits all” design that can find its home on just about any rifle out there. If the features of the Schmidt suit your fancy more than March you won’t find an argument from me, but if the March finds its way into your heart with all it offers I think you will be pleasantly surprised and at over $1400 less your wallet will be thanking you as well.
Areas of Improvement
The first item that comes to mind is for March to design non-translatable turrets, that is – turrets that do not rise and fall as you spin them up or down. Move the zero set hex key under the locking lever to protect debris from hindering operation. Get an illumination module like so many other new scopes that have excellent low light quality with no bleed but also bright enough to be used when the sun is out. Find that Goldilocks zone between magnification and scope length which allows for much more forgiving DOF and parallax.
Get rid of the illumination tumor already! A PM III series with shortened bodies (doesn’t have to be ultra short short) for many of their long range scopes (e.g. 5-25, 3-27 and 5-45) would be welcomed. The LRR-Mil reticle falls short in some areas and the GR2ID reticle is a bit too busy for some, it would behoove Schmidt to send some of their German engineers designing these to the good ol’ US of A and get input from the PRS/NRL crowd. There’s a reason why the Kahles SKMR series, the ZCO MPCT series, the Nightforce Mil-C/XT and Tangent Theta’s new Gen 3XR have captured so many competitors hearts. Years ago Minox accomplished this feat with the MR4 and now March with the FML-TR1 – it is time for Schmidt to finally get it right when it comes to a good .2 mil Christmas tree reticle that’s not too thin and not too busy.
About the author:
Bill has been around firearms since he was a young boy and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game. Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist). Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself. Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsmen.
Flashlights is not something I write about a whole lot, but that is a mistake I am going to rectify going forward. I own a ton of flashlights and use them quite extensively and frequently. Some are weapon mounted and some are handheld. I have flashlights from Surefire, Streamlight, Inforce, 4Sevens and a few others. When preparing to write this I did a quick inventory and realized that easily more than half of all flashlights I have are from Fenix, some hailing from quite a few years ago and still going strong. I think the only Fenix light that gave me any problems at all was an older model that had an alkaline battery leak inside. I was able to get it open and working after replacing the tail switch. That was hardly the flashlight’s fault and since then I only use lithium batteries in my flashlights. I am fairly certain I have another three or four Fenix lights squirreled away in different bags, but these are the ones I could assemble for a brief photoshoot quickly. They are not in any sort of chronological order here, but you can see a silver P3D on the right and a couple of E15s that live in my various travel bags. An old headlamp and LD20 are always in my car (if you have ever had to change a flat tire in the middle of the night you’ll understand why I have these in the car). Old TK11 has been to a good number of night classes. The rechargeable UC35 V2.0 was recently purchased and intended to be sitting in the drawer of my bedside table. The PD35TAC might replace it and will be going on all my regular travels. To be clear, I have a ton of other flashlights as well, some for handheld use and a bunch mounted on weapons of all sorts. If Fenix had a better way to mount the flashlight to a rifle, I would definitely try the PD35TAC there. They do sell a picatinny mount for their flashlights and an extended pressure switch, but after a ton of experimentation, I decided that I strongly prefer to mount flashlights closer to the handguard via KeyMod or Mlok at either 1 o’clock or 5 o’clock positions. In terms of brightness, PD35 TAC with its 1000 lumen tactical mode would do quite well on a rifle, I think.
While the subject of this review is the Fenix PD35 TAC, toward the tail end of this article I’ll go into a bit more detail of what I am looking for in a tactical flashlight and lament profusely that such a thing does not exist. PD35 TAC almost gets me there, though.
This is officially the first time I got a flashlight partially because it is pretty. To be fair, I was going to pick up the regular PD35 Tactical flashlight anyway and then I stumbled onto the Patriot edition. It is one of many patterns Fenix makes as a part of their Elite Cerakote Series and I happened to like this one. The American Flag cerakote coating on this Patriot PD35 is excellent and seems to be quite durable. Aside from vanity, there is a practical reason why I ended up with the cerakoted version: it stands out a little from all the rest of the stuff in my messy workbag. This has been my EDC light for a few weeks now and it still looks exactly the same as it did when I got it despite being slipped in an out of a bunch of different pockets, pouches, rolled around on the floor of the workshop and subjected to all sort of other daily abuse. It even survived my pre-teen kids who press every button eight million times per second simply because they are bored. I have been using it in both Tactical and Outdoor modes with reasonable success in different lighting conditions and for different purposes. It is a really good general purpose light and it works quite well for tactical applications in a pinch. If you look at the UC35 V2.0 and PD35 TAC next to each other it may not be immediately clear why I got both. A brief look at the specs will clear it all up.
Here are the UC35 specs I pilfered from Fenix website:
Look at how the output in lumens and intensity and candela differ between the two. For example, when both are set to 1000 lumen output, UC35 is rated for 17,700 candela, while PD35 for 10000 candela. Candela and lumens are related: candela is lumens per steradian (solid angle). Number of lumens represent the total amount of energy that comes out while candela also takes into account how that energy is distributed. That essentially means that PD35 throws the light at a substantially wider angle and when you actually use the lights, it is clear that UC35 concentrates most of the energy in a comparatively narrow angle, while PD35 spreads it out a fair bit more. For reaching far out, UC35 is a better choice, but for tactical use where you want to minimize blind spots not very far from you, PD35 is better.
While the 1000 lumen turbo mode sounds very impressive (and it is quite bright), the high mode with 500 lumen output is what caught my attention. There is a trend with flashlights to go brighter and brighter. It is great for marketing because bigger number is better, right? To support that, there is a whole brigade of internet authorities pontificating how their latest and greatest ultrabright flashlight can incinerate the intruder’s eyeballs from a mile away on a rainy night. I am beginning to wonder if they have ever tried to use those flashlights indoors. For defensive use indoors, I need a flashlight that has a nicely uniform output so that there aren’t any blind spots. It also has to be bright enough to temporarily blind an attacker when I pulse it on for a second and not so bright that it blinds me. Most indoor walls in the US are painted in some sort of a light color. Some time, for entertainment purposes, turn off all lights at night, let your eyes adapt to the dark, and flip on your 1000 lumen latest and greatest while standing in front of a white wall. Now, if you are outdoors, sky is the limit, without all that reflected energy coming back at you, there is a definite benefit to more light: you can see further and disorient an adversary from a longer distance. I use fairly powerful lights on my rifles, but on a handgun I tend to stick to something in the 400-500 lumen range. With a reasonably wide illumination field like on the PD35 TAC and other high quality tactical lights that’s about the maximum I can use without severely degrading my own ability to see at night. For the non-tactical version of PD35 and for the UC35, the High mode is 350 lumens and next step up is the 1000 lumen turbo mode. Another thing that is different in the PD35 TAC is the tactical mode. In the regular mode Fenix call “outdoor” the tail cap switched the light on and off, while the small button just behind the lamp assembly toggles through different modes in a sequence. The flashlight remembers the last mode you used, so if you turn it on again, it comes back in that same mode. That is exactly how I use it: I make sure it is on High and turn it off. Then a half press on the tail cap gives me that momentary activation I want and the light is off the moment I release it. For defensive purposes, I do not want the light to stay on any longer than absolutely necessary. The tail switch on the PD35 TAC, unfortunately, is of the press/click variety where a full press clicks the light on, requiring another click to turn it off. I would have much preferred a clickless button that is momentary on only. Permanent on can be achieved by some other means. The tactical mode has an abbreviated number of settings: 1000 lumen, 60 lumen and strobe. It does not really do anything useful for me, unfortunately, since in that mode repeated activation of the tail switch switches between outputs. That is the exact thing I do not want. I know there is a school of thought out there that you want to be able to switch between modes with the tail switch only. Perhaps, it works for other people, but that is not how I use tactical lights. Utility lights is a difficult ball game, of course.
There are flashlights out there that have simple momentary on tail switches, but with the obsession on the brightest possible output, small single battery lights usually spit out in the ballpark of 500 lumens, while longer dual cell ones are often double that. Therein lies another problem for the nitpicky and paranoid people like me. I want to be able to use the flashlight as a kubotan in a pinch. For that, it has to be five or six inches in length and single cell flashlights are all shorter than that.
PD35 TAC is nearly perfect size for me to use as an impact weapon if I have to and, in the outdoor mode, the tail switch only turns it on and off. It is not perfect, but it is close. 500 lumen high output mode is just about right for tactical indoor use. 1000 lumen turbo mode is available if I am outdoors and low output modes save battery and give me enough light for utility use when camping or looking for something at night.
PD35 Tactical is a really solid general purpose light that doubles as a tactical light better than most, so I am sticking with it for now.
If I were to design a perfect tactical light, I would have it roughly the same size as PD35 and equip it with a momentary only tail switch and three output modes: full blast for outdoor use, ~500 lumen for indoor tactical use and ~50 lumens for when you do not need to blind anyone. Mode switching would be done by some means other than the tailcap and permanent on by something else entirely. For example, you can have the lamp assembly rotate between three different settings corresponding to three brightness modes and tail cap can rotate to turn the light permanently on, leaving the tail switch free for momentary only operation.
One of these scopes is about to go onto my list of recommendations. Somewhat unusually, it is about to land there before I fully finish with my review, so I figured I should qualify that a little.
Here is the qualification: I really like this scope.
MPO stands for Match Precision Optic and that is Brownells’ house optics brand. They are starting out with two models aimed at general purpose precision shooting for people who are not inclined to drop upwards of $3k on a really fancy scope. The two models they have are 3-18×50 and 5-25×56, both built in Japan on 34mm tubes.They had sort of a soft introduction earlier on, but now both models are available.
Before I move on, apparently Brownells also sells a retro 4×21 scope that fits onto an AR handle. I never quite paid attention to that, but I have a retro AR project that I am conceiving. I think that will be a perfect opportunity to test Brownells’ Retro scope.
Getting back to the MPO…
The model I have been testing is the 3-18×50 with the N-OMR reticle. Honestly, for a general purpose scope under $1k, this is probably the one to beat. By going directly to the OEM and being the only retailer, Brownells is able to keep the price lower that similarly configured competition. I started talking about these a little since the MPO is part of a 50mm Precision Scope article I am working on.
In a nutshell, the MPO 3-18×50 I have here, is as good as or better than any similarly configured and similarly priced FFP scope I have seen to date. To be clear: I have probably seen all of them, so do not take this statement lightly. It is not the shortest, nor the lightest. Size-wise, it is decidedly midpack and given the moderate price, I am very comfortable with that. I am leery of excessively ambitious designs on a budget. Everything in this scope just works. Image quality is very good. Turrets track as they should with a zero stop integrated into the elevation turret and windage turret covered. The reticle, while looking somewhat unusual with its double lines, works very well across the entire magnification range. Illumination is well calibrated to keep the reticle visible even in low light. In other words, the MPO 3-18×50 is both intelligently configured and well executed.
To be clear, it is not going to outperform most $3k+ scopes. As much as I like the MPO, it is not going to make me give up my Tangent Theta 3-15×50 or March-F 3-24×52. These are better than the MPO, but at triple the price, they better be. When people ask me whether the ultra high end scopes are worth it, the answer is usually “Yes, No and Maybe”. When I am about to drop $3k on a scope, I typically have a specific application in mind where something less expensive will probably not do. The March 3-24×52 is the lightest FFP crossover scope on the market with the broadest magnification range while maintaining excellent image quality. That’s why I have it. Tangent Theta is the best optimized 3-15x scope I have seen to date and it is lighter than everything similar other than March. TT315M is the perfect scope for a precision gas gun and that’s how I use it.
However, if someone comes to me without a very specific application in mind, I will usually steer them toward something less expensive that works well overall. Brownells MPO is exactly that and I can buy three of these for $3k. If, for example, I was getting into PRS-type shooting, for $3k I can equip three platforms: 5-25×56 for the bolt gun, 3-18×50 for a precision semi-auto and either one for an accurate rimfire. Add some appropriate rings and you are good to go. Most importantly, the sight picture you get is exactly the same on all three platforms and you are likely to manage it without mortgaging your kidneys to finance the whole thing.
The MPO punches above its weight class. Looking at what is out there, I am not sure what I would take in the under $2k market over the MPO. I think MPO 3-18×50, Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50 and SWFA SSHD 5-20×50 are the 50mm objective precison scopes under $2k, with an honorable mention going to the EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 that I am also impressed with due to how compact it is.
Here are a couple of videos from my Youtube Channel that touch on the MPO among other designs:
Here are some through the scope videos as well. I will probably redo some of these to get better focus, but for now they will do.
As I was ready to publish this, I noticed that Doug from CameralandNY just put this scope on sale for $849. If you call him and mention Dark Lord Of Optics, you will get an additional $50 gift certificate for anything else from Cameraland (rings, caps, etc). That brings the price of the P4Xi down to a hair under $800.
I have been looking at this scope for some time now and I found myself liking it a fair bit. It is a little bit of an oddball design in a sense that finding something similarly configured to compare it to. The only other 4-16×56 scopes I found are the much more expensive Hensoldt and S&B. Most of the 3-15x, 4-16x and 3-18x scopes out there use a smaller 50mm objective (kinda like Steiner’s own T5Xi 3-15×50). Meopta Optika6 will have a 3-18×56 design, but that is not here yet. In the end, I ended up looking at the Steiner P4Xi next to a couple of higher magnification scopes I have on hand with 56mm objective lenses to get an idea of how it stacks up.
Here is my conclusion in a nutshell: if you can find this scope for around $1K you should pick one up. At $1500, it would be a bit of a harder sell, but around a grand it is a superb option. It tracked true. The turret feel is very good and optical quality is very respectable. It especially shined in low light. There is enough magnification to get me pretty far out and the reticle is very well suited for precision shooting where you dial for elevation and hold for wind.
Here is my customary comparison table which is not really useful in this case because of the unusual configuration.
Steiner P4Xi 4-16×56
Hensoldt 4-16×56 FF
S&B PMII Ultra Bright 4-16×56
Meopta Optika6 3-18×56 (not out yet)
Athlon Ares ETR 4.5-30x 56
Delta Stryker HD 4.5-30x 56
Main Tube Diam
Eye Relief, in
3.5 – 4
3.2 – 3.8
FOV, ft@ 100yds
27.5-6.9 11.04@ 10x
26.1-7.5 12 @ 10x
33.2 – 5.810.4@ 10x
24.5 -3.7 11.2@ 10x
24.8-3.7 11.2@ 20x
9.5 – 3.1
8.8 – 1.9
8.8 – 1.9
Adj per turn, mrad
10 Dual turn
Adj range, mrad
E: 30 W: 16
E: 27 W: 12
E: 30 W: 15
Yes + Dichro
FFP or SFP
Adj 50 – inf
Adj 25 – inf
Adj 23 – inf
Looking at the numbers, nothing really sticks out. The scope is reasonably sized for the class and on the light weight side for a 56mm objective design.
There is plenty of internal elevation adjustment available, but the turret is a double turn design, wo you get 20 mrad with proper mounting. I had it mounted in a Aadmount with 20 MOA incline built in. With that configuration I go the two full turns.
In practical terms, since I do not shoot ELR (yet), I do not need that much adjustment, so most of my testing was over the first 9 mrad. I did not do a shooting test for the entirety of the 20 mrad adjustment, but I did test on a gun out to 16 mrad with very uneventful results.
The scope spent time on two guns: The Fix with a 24” Proof barrel chambered for 308 and large frame AR with Dracos 243Win barrel on it (below). Neither is a kicker, but I have spent some time shooting off the bench, prone and sitting with both guns to see how forgiving the scope is. The eye relief is fairly long and quite flexible. This scope is pretty easy to get behind. That is one of the advantages of a large objective. Even at 16x, the exit pupil is a rather generous 3.5mm
Another nice feature is that the elevation turret does not go up and down when you dial. It always stays the same height and there is a window at the bottom of the turret that serves as a revolution counter: white for the first turn and green for the second turn.
The numbers engraved on the turret are color coded to match the turn indicator. 0 through 9 are white and 10 through 19 are green.
Side focus adjust the image from 50 yards on out to infinity and infinity is actually infinity. I was able to focus on some trees a couple of miles out. Depth of field is fairly generous, but still, for shooting inside of 50 yards, lowering the magnification helped. On 4x, I could shoot quite comfortably and accurately don to 20 yards or so. There was some parallax, but it was manageable.
Reticle illumination control is a rotary knob integrated into the side focus turret. The illumination level is calibrated to be just about perfect for low light. Only a portion of the reticle is illuminated, making an illuminated “T”, of sorts. In the picture below, I set illumination on a rather bright level, so that the camera could focus on something. It looks much sharper when you look through the scope.
In general, the SCR reticle that Burris and Steiner use across a wide variety of different scopes is quite thin and well suited for precision shooting. I think it is a little too thin on 4x, especially as light goes down, but that is where reticle illumination really helps. Here is what the reticle looks like on 4x, 8x, 12x and 16x.
Optical quality was very good given the price. When I compared it next to the Delta Stryker which costs a fair bit more, Delta was the better scope during the day, with better resolution and better CA control. However, at night, they performed very similarly with Steiner having unusually good flare control for the price range. Compared to Ares ETR, P4Xi had a little more CA and little lower resolution, but the contrast on the Steiner was better. In the middle of the day Athlon Ares ETR looked a little better, but as the light went down P4Xi was the better scope. Its reticle illumination is also much better in low light than that on Ares ETR.
I think you are beginning to see the drift of my take on the P4Xi at this point: it is easy to get behind, seems solid mechanically and optically and it really shines in low light. Its only really notable optical flaw is some visible CA on high contrast targets, but I am kidna picking at it a little since there isn’t much else to complain about. It really reminds me of the original Steiner Military scopes a little in terms of the feel of the image. So many modern designs try to squeeze huge magnification range into a scope ro make it super compact and generally that is a good thing. However, with optics, everything is a compromise. If you are not ready to drop $3k+ for a modern ultrashort, I suggest looking at something with a design that is a bit more on the conservative side of things and this Steiner is exactly that. If you really want a 4-16×56 Hensoldt, but don’t have the budget for it, consider the P4Xi. No, it is not as good as the Hensoldt. It would be silly of me to claim it was, but it costs less than a third of the Hensoldt, stays zeroed, tracks true and is very good optically.
I have a confession to make – I have always been frustrated with the gap between 3-15x/4-16x scopes and 6-24x/5-25x scopes; I don’t feel the 3-15/4-16 provides quite enough top end for long range shooting (for me personally) and while the 6-24’s and 5-25’s provide enough top end, many come by sacrificing necessary FOV on the short end for close up shots. It’s baffled me why few manufacturer’s make 5-20/4-20 range scopes, but that is changing as we’ve seen more and more offerings filling this gap. The name “Tract” may not be a household name among the sport optics industry as they are new to the scene and have mostly catered to the hunting arena thus far; however, in early 2018 the “new” Toric 4-20×50 FFP scope was introduced and that caught my attention for reasons which should now be obvious – it is an ideal magnification range for my use. A visit to their website: https://www.tractoptics.com/about will provide most of the information you need to know about their company and product lines. However, here is a brief summary: The company was founded in 2015 by Jon LaCorte and Jon Addis both of whom have their roots in the sport optics giant – Nikon. With their knowledge of the industry and experience working with Nikon they realized there was a market that many manufacturers were missing and decided to start their own company and offer a “direct to consumer” pricing model. What is “direct to consumer” you may ask? Basically, it is a manufacturing model that cuts out the “middle man” of the dealer, thus allowing the manufacturer to sell direct to the consumer at a better price point than they could if they had to use a dealer network and pay for dealer margins. Obviously, dealers don’t like this, but the consumer does. One other recent startup company who is also using this pricing model is Revic with their PMR428. The Toric is made in Japan by the same manufacturer who is known to put out other high quality optics, but one of the unique features of the Toric is that they are using German Schott HT (High Transmission) glass. Given the specs, one might think this scope would easily push the $2000 price point or higher; however, due to the direct to consumer pricing the scope currently sells for a little over $1100 direct from Tract. The new Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP scope seems to be a match made in heaven with Japanese manufacture and Schott HT glass, read on to see if this scope lives up to what the specs promise.
Please understand this is a “subjective” review as anything that involves the human eye as an instrument for measurement should be classified as “subjective”. Asking someone “what is your favorite scope” or “who has the best glass” is almost akin to asking “what is the best color”, we can all give our opinions but at the end of the day, it is still our opinion and often times those opinions are further jaded by bias and we all have our bias’s whether we admit it or not. I have been reviewing high end scopes since 2013 and am no stranger to what would be considered tier one, alpha and elite scopes, so it is with this knowledge and experience that I make an effort to give a fair and honest review. Understand I am not a brand loyalist (someone who is committed to only using and promoting one brand), I look for the tools that will better serve me in my sport and if one brand makes a better tool then I don’t have a problem investigating the viability of that tool for my own personal use. I am not paid by any manufacturer to do these reviews, I do them out of my own pursuit for an optic that will fit my needs and enjoy sharing my findings as a benefit to the sport optics community. One final thought, we typically do not review multiple copies of the same scope and there can be sample variance from the same manufacturer so keep in mind this review focuses on one copy of this scope.
One of the first things we look at (or ought to look at) when a scope is announced or captures our interest is the specifications. This can give us information about the scope and its intended use, things like the magnification range, the front objective, FOV, size, weight, reticle and turret information can help inform us whether this particular scope would be a good candidate for our own personal use. Often times I am asked on the forums, “what is the best scope for me” and I often respond with “what is your intended purpose: how far do you intend to shoot, what kind of rifle is it going on, will you only be shooting during the day or will you have low light situations, do you have a SFP or FFP preference, will you be shooting, paper, steel or game or a combination of all the above, do you care about how heavy the scope is?” These types of questions or rather the answers to these questions help us understand better the environment the scope will be used for, which helps narrow down the choices from the vast array of options. While this review focuses on the Tract Toric I did have some other scopes available to provide a basis for comparison, here is a list of specs for comparison:
Here’s a few of the scopes I had on hand one of the days I was testing:
The scopes from left to right: Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, Vortex PST II 3-15×44, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44
Over the past few years the conversations on the forums have shifted somewhat whenever the question is asked “what scope should I get?”. Of late, you can often find someone (myself included) recommending the poster consider the reticle first and then choose the scope. This is a testament to both how reticles have changed as well as their importance in long range shooting and how good the scopes have improved regarding reliability and optical performance. The new “craze” of late seems to be the .2 mil hash Christmas tree style reticles like the Kahles SKMR3, Minox MR4, Sig Sauer DEV-L, Vortex EBR-7B to name a few. Unfortunately, Tract doesn’t have any design like this (though I am trying to convince them to consider it) and only offers a 0.5 mil hash reticle; however, if a plain mil hash reticle floats your boat then the Toric has you covered. I should note that Tract also offers an MOA reticle for those who prefer MOA over MRAD.
Image disclaimer, the below through the scope images are to give an idea for how the reticle looks only, please do not use through the scope images as an indication of IQ, the image is always sharper to the naked eye than it is for a camera due to lens, focus, position, vibration, etc.
Ignore the blurry reticle image below, that was my fault, the IQ was crystal clear at 4x and the reticle easily usable.
Illumination is almost standard on every modern FFP scope made with few exceptions (ahem Leupold!), but getting illumination “right” so it does not bleed in low light, but can also be dialed bright enough to be used during bright sunlight can be difficult to accomplish. During my testing I found the Tract Toric’s daylight illumination to be one of the best I’ve seen to date even among tier one optics, being very usable even in bright sunlit situations, keep in mind we’re not talking red dot bright here, but bright enough to see the red stadia lines. Low light illumination was nicely balanced with no discernible bleed. The Toric has an on/off setting between each illumination click.
Illumination was brighter to the naked eye than the image shows below.
Another very subjective opinion is turret feel and it seems that no two manufacturers have the same feel of turrets, nor does it seem that many can agree on “what is the best feel”, so if you prefer a heavy thunk, a light tick or a high pitched ting when you move between mils, this is going to have to be something that you experience yourself. Personally, I do not get too caught up in turret “feel” or sound, what matters more (to me) is whether I can accurately and quickly spin my turrets to the position I need for the shot, and I’ve found I can do that with relative ease with most manufacturers turrets these days. That being said, I can say the Tract Toric has decent turrets, they are a bit on the “large” side but the benefit of that is cold weather handling with gloves will be very easy to manipulate the turret. The Toric utilizes a standard 10 mil per rev turret and offers 20 mil of total travel which with today’s modern cartridges like 6.5 Creedmoor will be more than enough to get you well beyond 1000 yards should the need arise. One of my favorite features of the Toric’s turrets is the locking mechanism, when in their “natural” closed state, there is no chance the turrets will be bumped to a different setting, you have to lift both the elevation and the windage turret in order to adjust and the tension to do this is light enough to easily make the change with bare hands or with gloves but providing enough resistance they won’t accidentally unlock. Tract also provides a unique zero stop mechanism that can be inserted into the turret housing. I will say this, some manufacturers offer a “toolless” design that allows you to reset zero but the Toric requires the use of a 2.5mm Allen wrench to unscrew the cap, as a future enhancement I’d love to see Tract offer a toolless alternative so the turrets are a bit more field friendly, because if you forget that Allen wrench and find yourself wanting to make adjustments in the field, you’re out of luck. When the turret is unlocked there is a slight wiggle before the turret will click to the next .1 mil mark, but not enough to throw off dialing your solution. “Turret purists”, as I call them, may have an issue with the sound and feel of the Toric, but for the price I would say only the Vortex PST II has a better “feel”.
I took the scope out to my local 1000y range the other day and I felt the scope tracked better than I can shoot, when I did my part I rang steel from 375 out to 1000 yards, the most impressive shot of the day came on a cold bore after eating lunch – got into position (prone), aimed at the 1000 yard 10” plate, check wind, check level, breath, squeeze and a couple seconds later the report of lead on steel. Outside of some anomalies the majority of $1k+ scopes manufactured today have very good tracking, if your scope exhibits any anomalies (e.g. does not track) I recommend that you send it back to the manufacturer and request they fix it, any $1k+ scope manufactured today should track true, if it does not then it is a manufacturer’s defect and should be repaired. I highly recommend you perform your own box test (https://www.snipershide.com/snipers-hide-scope-calibration/) to verify tracking after properly mounting your scope.
Ergonomics and design:
Smooth parallax that goes down to 25y, ample mag ring resistance, locking elevation and windage all make for one fine package in this short body scope – I say this because the Toric is only 13.7” long, that’s just 1/10” of an inch longer than the Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20. The only downside to the Toric’s design is its weight, at 34oz this is one of the heaviest 30mm scopes out, a full 3oz heavier than the Burris XTR II 4-20×50 which boasts a 34mm tube and 7 more mils of travel, but it still falls under my threshold for tactical/hunting scopes which for me is at 35oz. The Toric does come with pretty much useless front and rear caps, they are small plastic covers that fall off easily, if Tract added a couple bungie cords to make them bikini caps that would have been much better, the saving grace here is that Tract offers some very nice Tenebraex caps at a reasonable price as an option. One last thing to mention is the Toric only comes in one color and it’s not traditional rifle scope black, it’s actually a gray color, but dark enough that it doesn’t look odd sitting atop most rifles.
There are some terms that are thrown around in the community that may have different meaning to different people, one of the most misunderstood in this regard is eyebox, which is most often confused with the spec for eye relief and while having long eye relief can be a good thing it does not define how good of an eyebox a particular scope has; I have seen scopes with long eye relief that have a really poor eyebox and scopes with shorter eye relief that have a forgiving eyebox. So, let me give my definition for eyebox which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope. Something else that can affect eyebox performance is where you mount the scope and your cheekweld, if you mount too far forward or too far back you will experience a “tunneled” sight picture and if your scope is high or low and your cheeckpiece is not in the right position then once again you’re going to have a distorted sight picture making for a difficult eyebox. So rule number one is getting the proper mount of your scope on your rifle, my recommended method for getting the proper position is to put your scope at its maximum magnification setting (this is where most scopes have their worst eyebox performance) and then place the scope in the rings without fully tightening, now, close your eyes and bring the rifle up to your natural hold, open your eyes, do you have a clear sight picture? If you have to wiggle your head or adjust your position slightly, then you do not have the proper mounting position, move your scope forward or back and repeat the process. You may also need to adjust your cheekpiece, if you have an adjustable one that’s pretty simple (if you do not then I recommend you get one or look into a good stock pack like the ones from Triad Tactical). The goal is that every time you bring the scope up to your natural hold, the sight picture is spot on, if you do this then even scopes with a very finicky eyebox’s should perform decently for you.
With that winded explanation in mind, how does the Toric perform in regard to eyebox – for an ultra short design I would say it performs very well, keeping in mind that designing Ultra Short scopes and getting them to perform alongside their regular length peers is not an easy task which is usually reflected in the price of the scope; however, more recent trends have shown some newer designs like the Toric which do not break the bank but still offer very good eyebox performance and my testing showed again and again that the Toric was very easy to get behind.
Probably the most subjective test there is of a scope is identifying optical quality; there are so many factors that go into a good optical formula that it’s hard to quantify, which is why there is no spec by any manufacturer that defines the quality of the image/glass, for that you have to rely on either looking through the scope in the poor lighting of a store or if you’re lucky, find a store that will allow you to take multiple scopes outside on a stable mount and look through them side by side in good lighting and then go back right after sunset and look through them again, because I have found that many scopes perform well in good lighting conditions, but when the light gets low, you begin to see a separation of quality.
Things I look for in a scope for optical quality are resolution, color, contrast, control of CA and low light performance. If a scope performs well in all these areas then I consider it to have excellent IQ (Image Quality), if it suffers in one area but excels at others I am usually okay with that, but if it suffers in two or more than it really needs to be a niche scope for me to want to keep it and/or recommend it. I determine optical quality by first setting up the scope properly for the diopter and parallax and then conduct a combination of tests both near and far, as well as perform an analysis at 100 yards using a modified Snellen eye chart as well as a High/Low Contrast target. However, keep in mind that atmospheric conditions can affect the outcome of any tests not performed in controlled environments, I do not have access to these environments, so I do the best I can with the conditions nature provides. I also try to compare the review scope(s) to another that I am confident in its optical performance as well as a few other scopes of similar design to get an idea of overall performance. One final note, most of the time I only review one scope and there can be sample variation so if you hear of everyone else raving about the quality of their scopes (same model) and yours just does not perform, it may be wise to send your scope in to the manufacturer to have it tested.
For this review the Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP was put up against a Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, a Vortex PST II 3-15×44, a Vortex PST II 5-25×50, a Burris XTR II 4-20×50 and a Sig Sauer Tango4 4-16×44.
Resolution – there are few scopes in the Toric’s price range that one could consider punches above its weight class, one of those scopes is the Bushnell LRHS/LRTS which has a phenomenal track record for having excellent optical quality rivaling closely with scopes that cost twice as much. I can confidently say the resolution of the Toric was superb for its price, easily matching the LRHS on hand and maybe even performing slightly better in certain situations, the fact that Tract was able to get this quality from a short body and 5x erector vs. the LRHS’s long body and 4x erector is pretty amazing. Looking at detail like blades of grass, grain in wood, rocks and dirt revealed the Toric was truly a best in class in IQ, this was also apparent in the Snellen eye chart test. Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS > Burris XTR II => Vortex PST II 3-15 > Vortex PST II 5-25 > Sig Tango4
Contrast – Contrast and resolution kind of go hand in hand; however, contrast can be another term that might be misunderstood so let me define – the ability of the scope to differentiate between smaller and smaller details of more and more nearly similar tonal value (this was pulled, in part, from an excellent article on Luminous-Landscape https://luminous-landscape.com/understanding-lens-contrast/). Using the contrast chart and determining detail in distant objects you begin to get a feel for “how much” detail a scope provides. The Toric once again proved to be a peer of the stellar Bushnell LRHS with overall contrast, the Bushnell may have had a slight edge in high contrast while both were equally superb in low contrast testing with the Toric maybe having a slight advantage. Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS > Vortex PST II 5-25 > Burris XTR II => Vortex PST II 3-15 > Sig Tango4
Color – in recent years I have found more and more scopes getting better at color, whether improvements in multi-coating or better manufacturing techniques of the glass itself I’m not certain but it is nice to see this improvement. Tract Toric = Bushnell LRHS => Vortex PST II 3-15 => Vortex PST II 5-25 => Burris XTR II = Sig Tango4
CA – another hotly debated topic is chromatic aberration which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target; however, Ilya has mentioned “It is not terribly critical for aiming, but it is important for observation and image fidelity during twilight before your eye transitions into scotopic vision.” This is one area where the Toric struggled a bit against some of its newer peers, Vortex has done the best job with their new PST II line IMO. CA can rear its ugly head even with some tier one optics, but seeing heavy CA in a $3k scope vs a $1k scope is very different and for its price point I found the Toric’s CA to be acceptable. Vortex PST II 3-15 => Vortex PST II 5-25 > Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric = Burris XTR II > Sig Tango4
Low Light – My testing takes into account all the above but in low light settings, usually after the sun sets and into where it almost gets too dark to see. In these conditions I like to set my scopes at 12x to take advantage of the exit pupil with fading light while still providing enough magnification to stress the limits of the scope (and my eyes). The amazing thing here is that all scopes performed admirably well in low light, contrast this from scopes I reviewed 5 years ago and the “budget” scopes then just couldn’t cut it while today’s scopes seem to be built for low light performance. I had to look long and hard at minute details in fading light to truly discern which scopes performed better, when not side by side it would be very difficult indeed to determine which, if any, performed better. The larger objective scopes still have a slight advantage over the smaller objective designs, but the difference is getting quite small with newer designs. The Toric performed extremely well in low light testing. Tract Toric > Vortex PST II 5-25 => Burris XTR II > Bushnell LRHS => Vortex PST II 3-15 => Sig Tango4
The fit and finish of this scope is truly impressive for it’s price point, I am really liking the overall design and don’t mind the matte gray finish as much as I thought I would, the addition of the sunshade and optional Tenebraex caps are nice touches to complete the package. The short design of the Tract Toric 4-20×50 FFP makes this an ideal scope for many rigs from bolt action rifles to AR platforms as well as covert style rigs. Are there better scopes, yes, but none of those scopes offer the same performance and size at the Toric’s price. Sure, it has a couple issues with CA and weight but with it being as short as it is and having the excellent IQ it has, this will more than make up for its shortcomings for many shooters. I would like to see Tract come out with a .2 mil Christmas tree style reticle as well as a possible future enhancement offering lower profile turrets with a toolless zero design. For optical purists looking for the best glass at an “affordable” price this scope deserves your attention; to get a “better” scope you’re going to have to fork over 2x and in if you want a quality ultra short it’ll cost you 3x as much. The Tract Toric is one of the best scopes available at its price and higher. I highly recommended this optic for those looking for a great scope in the $800 – $2000 class.
At home on an AR platform, this is my 14.5″ bbl with pinned brake for reference.
The Leupold Mark 5HD, Kahles K318i and Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50:
While not part of my initial review, I did have a Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44, a Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 and a Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50 on hand. At over $3k the comparison to the $1k Toric seems a bit unfair with the Kahles and Schmidt, but both offer a similar magnification range and short design with the Kahles coming in a full 1.4” shorter and the Schmidt Ultra Short coming in at only 1/10” shorter. Resolution and contrast are close between these scopes which is a testament to the quality the Japanese manufacturer’s continue to put out, that being said the Kahles is an even shorter design and the Schmidt has a greater magnification range while both handle CA better, the Kahles and Schmidt also have “better” turrets in regard to overall click feel while the Kahles boasts one of the best Christmas tree reticles in the business with the SKMR3, but all this comes at a cost, at 3x as much as the Toric you have to ask yourself “is it really worth it?” and for those who simply can’t afford tier 1 optics, the Toric is a fantastic compromise. You might be wondering why the Leupold Mark 5 isn’t mentioned above and that is because I do not consider it to be a tier 1 optic, impressive for such a short package at just over 12″ but optically it struggles, the Mark 5 had worse CA in my testing and at half the price the Toric easily bested the Mark 5 optically, that being said the Mark 5 has my favorite turrets to date.
From left to right, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 and Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44:
About the author:
Bill has been around firearms since he was a young boy and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game. Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist). Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself. Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsman.
The name Leupold, or more officially Leupold & Stevens, Inc., has been around for over 100 years, having been started by two German immigrants looking for a fresh start in the USA; however, it wasn’t until soon after the end of World War II that Leupold began building riflescopes when Marcus Leupold was on a hunt where his scope fogged up causing him to miss a deer, he decided he could build a better scope and since that time Leupold has steadily grown in the sport optics industry to being one of the most well-known names in the marketplace today. A few years ago Leupold introduced the Mark 6 and Mark 8 lines of tactical scopes with the Mark 8 representing the pinnacle of Leupold’s optical/mechanical quality while the Mark 6 3-18×44 represents one of the lightest and shortest FFP scopes within its magnification range; however, the high cost of entry for these scopes as well as some initial tracking and turret issues kept them out of many shooters hands, and for all their innovation they never really caught on in the civilian marketplace. For that reason, some have speculated Leupold engineers went to work on a model that would bridge the gap to the Mark 6/8 and be able to introduce them at more consumer-friendly price point, which brings us to the Mark 5HD introduced at SHOT Show 2018. With two models, a standard 5-25×56 and an ultra short 3.6-18×44 Leupold hopes to regain some ground it has lost over the past few years as the industry has been changing quickly to accommodate the rise of long range shooting sports. While there is a plethora of 5-25 and similar magnification scopes available from multiple manufacturers today, the Leupold is one of the lightest and comes at a price point below most of the alpha class scopes if you do not require illumination. That being said, the scope that intrigued me the most was the 3.6-18×44 (hereafter referred to as the “Mark 5 Shorty”) offering especially since short and light scopes have always had an appeal for me. Coming in at an MSRP starting at $2399.99 and a street price around $1800 this model is certainly not cheap; however, it is not easy to manufacturer ultra short designs and most of the Mark 5 Shorty’s competition comes in at a stiff price point of $3,000+! Coming in at almost half the price of the competition while being one of the shortest and lightest scopes in its class (bested only by Leupold’s own Mark 6 3-18×44 in length and weight as of summer 2018) this scope has the potential to find its way on many rifles, the big question is how well it will perform optically and mechanically.
Please understand this is a “subjective” review as anything that involves the human eye as an instrument for measurement should be classified as “subjective”. Asking someone “what is your favorite scope” or “who has the best glass” is almost akin to asking “what is the best color”, we can all give our opinions but at the end of the day, it is still our opinion and often times those opinions are further jaded by bias and we all have our bias’s whether we admit it or not. I have been reviewing high end scopes since 2013 and am no stranger to what would be considered tier one, alpha and elite scopes, so it is with this knowledge and experience that I make an effort to give a fair and honest review. Understand I am not a brand loyalist (someone who is committed to only using and promoting one brand), I look for the tools that will better serve me in my sport and if one brand makes a better tool then I don’t have a problem investigating the viability of that tool for my own personal use. One final thought, we typically do not review multiple copies of the same scope and there can be sample variance from the same manufacturer so keep in mind this review focuses on one copy of this scope.
One of the first things we look at (or ought to look at) when a scope is announced or captures our interest is the specifications. This can give us information about the scope and its intended use, things like the magnification range, the front objective, FOV, size, weight, reticle and turret information can help inform us whether this particular scope would be a good candidate for our own personal use. Often times I am asked on the forums, “what is the best scope for me” and I often respond with “what is your intended purpose: how far do you intend to shoot, what kind of rifle is it going on, will you only be shooting during the day or will you have low light situations, do you have a SFP or FFP preference, will you be shooting, paper, steel or game or a combination of all the above, do you care about how heavy the scope is?” These types of questions or rather the answers to these questions help us understand better the environment the scope will be used for, which helps narrow down the choices from the vast array of options. While this review focused on the Mark 5 Shorty I did have some other scopes available to provide a basis for comparison, here is a list of specs for comparison:
The scopes from left to right: Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, Vortex PST II 3-15×44, Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50, Tract Toric 4-20×50, Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44
Over the past few years the conversations on the forums have shifted somewhat whenever the question is asked “what scope should I get”. Of late, you can often find someone (myself included) recommending the poster consider the reticle first and then choose the scope. This is a testament to both how reticles have changed as well as their importance in long range shooting and how good the scopes have improved regarding reliability and optical performance. The new “craze” of late seems to be the .2 mil hash Christmas tree style reticles like the Kahles SKMR3, Minox MR4, Sig Sauer DEV-L, Vortex EBR-7B to name a few. Unfortunately, Leupold doesn’t have any design like this other than their busy CCH reticle. If a plain mil hash or Horus style reticles float your boat then Leupold has you covered, but if you prefer some of the more modern designs then you’ll be left wanting something more. The scope I chose came with the Horus TReMoR3 reticle as I’ve wanted to experience a bit of what the hype is about with these busy reticles.
Image disclaimer: the below through the scope images are to give an idea for how the reticle looks only, please do not use through the scope images as an indication of IQ, the image is always sharper to the naked eye than it is for a camera due to lens, focus, position, vibration, etc.
Another very subjective opinion is turret feel and it seems that no two manufacturers have the same feel of turrets, nor does it seem that many can agree on “what is the best feel”, so if you prefer a heavy thunk, a light tick or a high pitched ting when you move between mils, this is going to have to be something that you experience yourself. Personally, I do not get too caught up in turret “feel” or sound, what matters more to me is whether I can accurately and quickly spin my turrets to the position I need for the shot, and I’ve found I can do that with relative ease with most manufacturers turrets these days. That being said, I can confidently say the Leupold Mark 5 has some of the best “feeling” turrets I’ve experienced yet – there is very little play (wiggle) between clicks and each click is very succinct with an audible tink-tink-tink. One thing to mention is that Leupold went with an odd 10.5 mil per revolution turret, not a big deal for me but something to keep in mind. Instead of a full locking mechanism where the whole turret is locked out unless you lift up, Leupold instead went for a locking zero so that you have a push button if you want to spin the turret up that you must press in, but once you start spinning the turret can move either way without further depression of the locking mechanism; likewise, this button will magically move flush with the turret after rotating past the first revolution as a mechanical indicator letting you know you’re past one revolution and there is an additional silver button on top of the turret that raises when moving into the third revolution. This same unit also acts as your zero stop so if you spin all the way back, the button will lock when you’ve arrived at zero. As an added bonus, you do have .5 mil to dial down after depressing the turret lock.
I’ll keep this short. If you want to get a full field analysis of a scopes mechanical reliability I recommend you look for reviews from Lowlight on Snipers Hide, of course ILya of opticsthoughts.com and some others on the web who torture test their scopes for months on end. Outside of some anomalies the majority of $1k+ scopes manufactured today have very good tracking, if your scope exhibits any anomalies (e.g. does not track) I recommend that you send it back to the manufacturer and request they fix it, any $1k+ scope manufactured today should track true, if it does not then it is a manufacturer’s defect and should be repaired. I highly recommend you perform your own box test (https://www.snipershide.com/snipers-hide-scope-calibration/) to verify tracking after properly mounting your scope.
Ergonomics and design:
Smooth parallax that goes down to 75y in marking but lower in actual use, quick throw knob, locking elevation, capped windage all make for one fine package in this short body scope. The only odd anomaly is the 35mm tube and the windage zero is offset at the 11 o’clock position instead of the 9 o’clock position on virtually every other scope out there, this does make it a little difficult to identify where true zero is, if you hold elevation it may not be that big of a deal as the knob will most likely always be covered by the cap, but if you spin elevation it might take a bit to get used to. The most important ergonomic aspect of the Mark 5 Shorty is its length, at only 12.06” long this scope is easily classified as an “Ultra Short” design, a term coined by famed German scope manufacturer Schmidt & Bender and represents scopes with high magnification in a short design. One aspect of an Ultra Short design is that it is much more difficult to build and build right which is why we typically don’t see short designs dominating the market. The Mark 5 Shorty doesn’t just work as an ultra short design, it looks good doing it.
The parallax has set screws and can be reset which is a nice feature as I found it was off from factory, notice the set screw which allows user adjustability.
Instead of using a cantilever mount, the Badger riser rail along with ARC M10 24mm (low) rings put the scope at the perfect height for an AR flat top.
There are some terms that are thrown around in the community that may have different meaning to different people, one of the most misunderstood terms is eyebox which is most often confused with the spec for eye relief and while having long eye relief can be a good thing it does not define how good of an eyebox a particular scope has, I have seen scopes with long eye relief that have a really poor eyebox and scopes with shorter eye relief that have a forgiving eyebox. So, let me give my definition for eyebox which will help you understand what I’m looking for – put simply, eyebox is the ability to be able to quickly obtain a clear sight picture when getting behind a scope. Something else that can affect eyebox performance is where you mount the scope and your cheekweld, if you mount too far forward or too far back you will experience a “tunneled” sight picture and if your scope is high or low and your cheeckpiece is not in the right position then once again you’re going to have a distorted sight picture making for a difficult eyebox. So rule number one is getting the proper mount of your scope on your rifle, my recommended method for getting the proper position is to put your scope at its maximum magnification setting (this is where most scopes have their worst eyebox performance) and then place the scope in the rings without fully tightening, now, close your eyes and bring the rifle up to your natural hold, open your eyes, do you have a clear sight picture? If you have to wiggle your head or adjust your position slightly, then you do not have the proper mounting position, move your scope forward or back and repeat the process. You may also need to adjust your cheekpiece, if you have an adjustable one that’s pretty simple (if you do not then I recommend you get one or look into a good stock pack like the ones from Triad Tactical). The goal is that every time you bring the scope up to your natural hold, the sight picture is spot on, if you do this then even scopes with a very finicky eyebox should perform decently for you.
With that in mind, how does the Mark 5 perform in regard to eyebox – for an ultra short design I would say it performs admirably well, keeping in mind that designing Ultra Short scopes and getting them to perform alongside their regular length peers is not an easy task which is usually reflected in the price of the scope; however, more recent trends have shown some newer designs like the Mark 5 Shorty which do not break the bank.
Probably the most subjective test there is of a scope is identifying optical quality; there are so many factors that go into a good optical formula that it’s hard to quantify, which is why there is no spec by any manufacturer that defines the quality of the image/glass, for that you have to rely on either looking through the scope in the poor lighting of a store or if you’re lucky, find a store that will allow you to take multiple scopes outside on a stable mount and look through them side by side in good lighting and then go back right after sun set and ask to look through them again because I have found that many scopes perform well in good lighting conditions, but when the light gets low, you begin to see a separation of quality.
Things I look for in a scope for optical quality are resolution, color, contrast, control of CA and low light performance. If a scope performs well in all these areas then I consider it to have excellent IQ, if it suffers in one area but excels at others I am usually okay with that, but if it suffers in two or more than it really needs to be a niche scope for me to want to keep it and/or recommend it. I determine optical quality by first setting up the scope properly for the diopter and parallax and then conduct a combination of tests both near and far, as well as perform an analysis at 100 yards using a modified Snellen eye chart as well as a High/Low Contrast target. However, keep in mind that atmospheric conditions can affect the outcome of any tests not performed in controlled environments, I do not have access to these environments, so I do the best I can with the conditions nature provides. I also try to compare the review scope(s) to another that I am confident in its optical performance as well as a few other scopes of similar design to get an idea of overall performance. One final note, most of the time I only review one scope and there can be sample variation so if you hear of everyone else raving about the quality of their scopes (same model) and yours just does not perform, it may be wise to send your scope in to the manufacturer to test and adjust as necessary.
For this review the Leupold Mark 5 3.6-18×44 was put up against a Bushnell LRHS 4.5-18×44, a Vortex PST II 3-15×44, a Schmidt & Bender Ultra Short 3-20×50 and a Tract Toric 4-20×50.
Resolution – upon initial review I was fairly impressed with the Mark 5 Shorty and it wasn’t until I started comparing side by side with the other scopes that I realized the resolution fell a bit short, that’s not to say the Leupold was bad, it was that the other scopes performed better. Looking at detail like blades of grass, grain in wood, rocks and dirt revealed the Leupold was not as sharp as the other scopes, this was also apparent in the Snellen eye chart test. S&B Ultra Short > Bushnell LRHS = Tract Toric > Vortex PST II > Leupold Mark 5
Contrast – Contrast and resolution kind of go hand in hand; however, contrast can be another term that might be misunderstood so let me define – the ability of the scope to differentiate between smaller and smaller details of more and more nearly similar tonal value (this was pulled, in part, from an excellent article on Luminous-Landscape https://luminous-landscape.com/understanding-lens-contrast/). Using the contrast chart and determining detail in distant objects you begin to get a feel for “how much” detail a scope provides. There were situations where I felt the Leupold image was a bit more washed out than the others which reduced contrast, I got the feeling that whatever Leupold engineers did to improve low light performance it came with a less than optimal performance hit to daytime contrast. S&B Ultra Short => Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric > Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II
Color – in recent years I have found more and more scopes getting better at color, whether improvements in multi-coating or better manufacturing techniques I’m not certain but it is nice to see this improvement. S&B Ultra Short > Bushnell LRHS = Tract Toric > Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II
CA – another hotly debated topic is chromatic aberration which is typically seen at the edges between high and low contrast objects in what is termed as fringing and usually comes in a band of color along the green/yellow and magenta/purple spectrum, some are greatly annoyed by this optical anomaly while others insist they cannot see it, one thing to know is it has nothing to do with your ability to hit a target; however, Ilya has mentioned “It is not terribly critical for aiming, but it is important for observation and image fidelity during twilight before your eye transitions into scotopic vision.” S&B Ultra Short > Vortex PST II > Bushnell LRHS > Tract Toric => Leupold Mark 5
Low Light – My testing takes into account all the above but in low light settings, usually after the sun sets and into where it almost gets too dark to see. In these conditions I like to set my scopes at 12x to take advantage of the exit pupil with fading light while still providing enough magnification to stress the limits of the scope. The amazing thing here is that all scopes performed admirably well in low light, contrast this from scopes I reviewed 5 years ago and the “budget” scopes then just couldn’t cut it while today’s scopes seem to be built for low light performance. I had to look long and hard and minute details in fading light to truly discern which scopes performed better, when not side by side it would be very difficult indeed to determine which, if any, performed better. S&B Ultra Short = Tract Toric > Bushnell LRHS = Leupold Mark 5 = Vortex PST II
The below image shows an example of heavy CA which can be seen in high contrast situations (black to white transition).
In the 3.6-18×44 the only reticle that offers illumination is the TMR. I opted for the Tremor3 so no illumination option unfortunately (oddly enough the Mark 5 5-25×56 does offer an illuminated Tremor3), but with close to $600 for the illumination option from Leupold when most manufactures offer it as standard, I do not see many buyers going this route.
The Kahles K318i:
As I was wrapping up this review a Kahles K318i 3.5-18×50 showed up at my door, this scope is the closest in regard to size and magnification. While I didn’t have the opportunity to spend as much time comparing the Leupold Shorty with the Kahles K318i my experience alongside the other scopes gave me a good enough basis from which to say that the Kahles K318i does indeed perform better optically than the Mark 5 3.6-18×44; however, as mentioned before this comes at a cost of well over $1000 more than the Leupold albeit with no illumination for the Leupold, and at close to $600 that would close the gap considerably between these two scopes. Truth be told, I like the turret feel better than the Kahles as well as the overall build is very much on par with Kahles.
The below image shows the difference between the matte black of the Leupold and the reflective anodized black of the Kahles.
The below image shows the turret size of the Leupold (left) to the Kahles (right).
The size of these two scopes are very close
The fit and finish of this scope is top tier, I am highly impressed with the overall package with a truly matte black finish where many other scopes are an anodized black – this scope will not be reflecting light, the addition of the semi-flush scope caps and removable quick throw lever and sunshade are nice touches to complete the ensemble. The short, compact size and weight of the Mark 5 3.6-18×44 makes this an ideal scope for an AR platform or covert style build, that alone along with Leupold’s reputation will earn sales for this optic simply because the competition is so scarce at this price point. Are there better scopes, yes, are there cheaper scopes that perform better in certain situations, yes, but none of those scopes meet the same size parameter as the Mark 5 3.6-18×44. Sure, it has a few issues with CA and overall resolution but with it being as short as it is and having the excellent turrets it has, this will more than make up for its shortcomings for many shooters. If Leupold came out with a Christmas tree style reticle and brought down the high premium for illumination, this scope would be an even bigger seller. For optical purists looking for the best glass this scope will undoubtedly not meet your requirements, but the only scopes that do at this time run more than $3k, for those who are moving up where the Mark 5 is an upgrade to an existing scope I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
About the author:
Bill has been shooting since the early 80’s and enjoys shooting for fun as well as hiking around the Rocky Mountains in search of big game. Bill was a professional wedding and portrait photographer for over 17 years which gave him his obsession for good “glass” and translates into his pursuit for the perfect scope (which he’ll readily tell you does not exist). Bill served in the US Army in the late 80’s and in 2012 he caught the long range bug and began having custom precision rifles built, as well as building some AR platform rifles himself. Bill’s passion for shooting has driven him to find gear which will best serve his shooting style and he enjoys sharing the knowledge he picks up along the way with other sportsmen.
I am somewhat active on several forums, one of them being SnipersHide. The gentleman who runs it is a very accomplished military trained long range/precision shooter, so a big part of the forum leans toward the precision side of the shooting world.
While my personal interests span most of the shooting disciplines, I really lean toward the precision world, so that suits me really well.
Almost every day, I see incessant arguments about which scope is better than others and why. One thing that I do not see differentiated enough is whether the argument is about fundamental quality vs personal preferences and design decisions.
For example, holding zero, returning to zero, adjustment accuracy and adjustment consistency are all fundamental qualities.
Click feel is somewhere in between since for people who use the reticle exclusively it is not terribly important. Also, it is easier to get good click feel with turrets that have fewer clicks per revolution, so this one spans a little bit of everything: fundamental quality, design compromise and personal preference.
Reticle selection is almost entirely personal preference with a little bit of a design compromise mixed in.
Magnification range is both a personal preference and a design compromise.
Durability is a fundamental quality, but it is very difficult to measure without statistical data. For example, you will hear about a lot more failures from companies that sell the most scopes. Let’s say a company sells 100 scopes per year with a 1% failure rate. That means there is one broken scope out there from this company and unless that one scope is mentioned on the forums we never hear about it. With another company that sold 1000 scopes in the same period of time, with the same failure rate, there are ten broken scopes out there, so we are almost bound to run into someone complaining about it on the web. The failure rate is the same, but a larger brand will take a bigger hit to their reputation.
On the other hand, a smaller brand who only sells a 100 scope per year suffers from a small sample size. Let’s say they have no failures for four years and five failures in one year. Overall failure rate is still 1%, but their reputation is taking a serious hit from that one bad year.
Ultimately, I watch this kind of stuff carefully, but do not draw too many conclusions from it, partially because people who are pissed about an expensive scope taking a dive are usually a lot more vocal than satisfied customers.
We live in a time where precision shooters have an impressive array of options from quality manufacturers. It used to be just one or two makers serving this market segment, but now there is a bunch. On top of that, there is an increasing number of quality designs popping up at half the price of the alpha stuff.
I will ignore price considerations for now and give some thought to what would be an ideal precision riflescope for me based on the features I like from different makers out there. Keep in mind that I do not do ELR a whole lot, so extremely large adjustment range or very high magnification are not critical for me, especially since I can always get a Tacom prism.
There is no one scope right now that does exactly what I want, but Tangent Theta gets close on the strength of excellent optomechanical quality and the best turrets I have seen to date in terms of feel (there are several options with excellent reputability and return to zero, Tangent Theta being among them).
I use Tangent Theta TT315M as my general purpose precision scope and it is just superb. However, since we are talking about a wishlist here, for a dedicated precision gun, I could use a little more magnification. I do not need a whole lot more but I prefer 20x or more for this role.
The TT315M has 6 mrad per turn turrets with spectacular feel. However, the larger TT315P and TT525P have near perfect turrets with even better feel and 15 mrad per turn; however, these scopes are significantly heavier and the turrets are taller than I like. Still, if I were to choose one precision scope from what is on the market right now, TT525P would be it.
As far as form factor goes, the turrets on Vortex AMG 6-24×50 are just about perfect. They are a bit more compact, with 10 mrad per turn, zero stop and locking feature. The feel is not Tangent Theta though.
The weight of the AMG is about right (near same as TT315M), but it is on the long side at 15 inches (TT315M is around 13.5″).
Overall length is not that critical, unless you plan to use a clip-on in front of the scope. Still, given a choice, I would prefer to keep it in the 12 to 13 inch range if possible (or shorter). Of the designs on the market now, only S&B 5-20×50 Ultra Short is there, but the upcoming EOTech Vudu 5-25×50 and Kahles K318i are in that same size range. I think EOTech turrets are too tall for a scope of this size, but Kahles K318i turrets are a good compromise. In terms of factor factor, low and wide turrets on S&B Ultra Short, are good size, but I do not like the feel as much. ZCO 4-20×50 is also promising, ditto for Leupold Mark 5HD 3.6-18×44.
As far as control configuration goes, I really like what Kahles is doing with the center parallax. I shoot both right handed and left handed and that parallax location is very convenient. Other ambidextrous parallax options are on the objective bell and that is more of a reach than I like.
As far as magnification range goes, low mags are not that critical for precision use, but I shoot quite a bit off hand and from poorly supported positions, so I like to have 4x or so on the low end.
Reticles are a really personal preference. There is not single reticle design out there that is perfect for me, but most Christmas tree style reticles work well enough. I use both reticle and turrets, so Horus designs are not my thing. I will do a separate piece on which reticle would be perfect for my needs. In the meantime, I am quite comfortable with Gen 2 XR, Vortex EBR-2C and a few others.
To summarize all of this meandering, my ultimate precision scope would be a 4-24×50 with Tangent Theta’s optomechanical quality and turret feel, Vortex AMG weight, S&B Ultra Short overall length and turret size and Kahles’ general control configuration. Not to mention that it would have to have a reticle that does not yet exist and would probably be something that only I would like.
I do not think I will get that any time soon, so I will continue to use whatever is on the market and every time I miss a shot I will claim that I missed because the scope is not perfect…