I answer quite a few questions via PM on different forums where I participate and every once in a while, I take one and make a blog post out of it. A little while back, I received something I though was worth exploring:
Most comparisons don’t compare across price lines, except for your fun “if I could only have one” thread. Looking mostly at FFP 5-25 and I am trying to decide how much better a scope I am getting if I go with something in the Athlon Ares/PST GENII $725-$900 range versus jumping up to an Athlon Cronus/Sig Tango 6/Vortex Razor range at $1425-$1800, Athlons being new at the bottom of both those ranges. With several good deals popping up on here for Sigs and the dealers offering good pricing on Athlon, I am a little torn.
There is a reason why it is difficult to compare across price lines simply because quantifying what is worth the money is kinda complicated.
A basic rifle scope that you put on a hunting rifle really has two jobs:
- Stay zeroed
- Show the target and the reticle well enough to pull the trigger
If your scope of choice does not acomplish those two goals, you start going higher up in price until you stumble onto a product that does. In this case, value for the money is obvious. However, once you go higher up in price range in order to get additional features and performance, justifying that is not always straight forward. Still, there is a reason I’ve got Leica Magnus on my 280Rem.
With precision scopes, there are additional baseline requirements, largely pertaining to the reticle and the adjustments. However, once those are satisfied, how do you justify spending more?
Everyone does so in a different way and a lot depends on what you do with it. For example, if you are putting your ass on the line, spend some money on reliability and track record. The best warranty in the world is of no help if your scope craps out on you in the middle of nowhere. Or in the middle of a competition if you are a serious competitor (that is far less traumatic than getting shot at in one of the “stans”, but still very disappointing).
However, outside of really challenging conditions and high risk situations, there is a lot to be said about mid-range scopes. They are getting really good right now.
The stuff made in the Phillipines is maturing. When Vortex made Gen 1 PST, it had issues, but a lot of those were resolved. Gen 2 is much better. Burris XTR II proved that you can have a very feature rich scope with dead nuts reliable mechanics coming out of the Phillipines. PST Gen 2 is better optically, but not better mechanically. It is newer though. I am sure that Vortex is stabilizing PST Gen 2 mechanics (and the two I am looking at are very good), while I am similarly sure that Burris is plotting to improve the glass on XTR III or whatever the next one is (among other things). Still, there is now some track record for mid-range stuff coming out of Phillipines and it is beginning to push Japanese products quite a bit.
For example, if you are in the market for a very full featured 3-15x scope for a fair price, I have a very hard time recommending anything other than PST Gen 2 3-15×44 right now. To do noticeably better than that scope you really need to be stepping up to TT315M or something along those lines.
Athlon’s Ares is the highest end scope I have seen come out of China to date, so there is no track record to speak of. If you buy an Ares riflescope you take a risk, but you also pay less than for the better Phillipine stuff. The 4.5-27×50 Ares BTR I have been playing with is very good for the money, but not as good overall as the PST Gen 2 (I have them side by side on my tripod fixture right now). Is it worth the money? Yes, but until it has been out a little longer, I would be wary of putting it onto anything you plan to depend on. Mind you, mine has been rock solid, but it is a sample of one. Ares ETR that is coming out is an even more ambitious design, but if it holds up, the Phillipine-made scopes will have something to worry about.
Then there are the Japanese scopes, most of them made by LOW (except for a new Sightron that will be available mid year). Most LOW scopes in the $1500 and up range are mechanically robust and the difference between them comes down to turrets, reticles and specific requirements from the customer. Weirdly, the best I have seen so far from LOW in terms of optics is from a Polish company, called Delta Optical, but the rest of them are not far behind. SigSauer’s LOW products are probably the most full-featured overall. Vortex’ Razor Gen 2 have the best explored track record. Athlon Cronus is probably the value leader among designs commonly available in the US.
Are these scope worth the price premium over the PST Gen 2? Are PST Gen 2 and XTR II worth the price premium over Ares? For that matter, are the alpha brands worth the price premium over the better Japanese scopes?
Then there are occasional products that really throw a monkey wrench into this by offering reliability and track record with fewer features (yes SWFA SS scopes, I am looking straight at you).
If I could afford it, I would have Tangent Theta or Leica Magnus on every rifle. I can’t.
I have two rifles on which I refuse to compromise: My primary hunting rifle (re-stocked Tikka M695 in 280Rem) has a Leica Magnus 1.8-12×50 and my general purpose boltgun (Q’s Fix) has Tangent Theta TT315M. ZCO is coming up to compete with Tangent Theta and others, but they are not here yet, so they do not enter this discussion.
I am probably going to sell my Desert Tech when I am done testing the Vortex Razor AMG I currently have on it, but the primary scope on the SRS is SWFA SS 5-20×50. It is as reliable as anything out there and I can not afford to put a $3k scope on everything. And it hasn’t skipped a bit on 338LM for a couple of years now.
In sub-$2k world, if I am looking for a scope with 20x or higher magnification, I think I am still going to lean toward Japanese designs. For now. That means, SWFA SS 5-20×50 or Delta 4.5-30×56. Or Cronus if that reticle rocks your boat, but Delta seems better optically despite being a clearly related design. If you can find Razor Gen 2 for that money, go for it.
In the 3-15x range, it is PST Gen 2. That is clearly the cherry of the PST line-up. Here, I would have a hard time justifying the cost of anything until you get to $3k and scopes that offer minimal compromises.
In the 2-10x range, it is XTR II 2-10×42. It needs more reticles, but Burris did an exceptional job with this design.
If you want to go lower in price, you get to pick between the track record of SWFA SS 3-15x42FFP and the featureset of Athlon Ares BTR, and I can’t make that choice for you.