Tweener Scopes

Tweener scopes

Tweener scopes are an interesting breed.

They are somewhat unpopular these days: most of the attention goes either to Hubble sized scopes used for low light and long range shooting and to low range variables of 1-4×24 configuration which are both “tacti-cool” and have the aura of being DGR scopes.

The middle of the road (3-9×40 or thereabouts) scopes get some attention from hunters, but that is largely it.

So what is a tweener scope?  Honestly, I am not sure who came up with the term “tweener”.  I have been using it for a few years, but I am pretty sure I saw it somewhere.

Tweener scopes are, loosely, scopes that have objective lenses smaller in diameter than the common 40mm, but are not straight tubed.  Most common magnification range for a tweener scope is something along the lines of 2-8x, and the most common objective diameter is around 32mm.

For the sake of the discussion, I will define “tweener” scopes the following way:

  • Variable magnification
  • Low end magnification of no more than 2.5x
  • High end magnification of 6x or higher
  • Objective lens diameter in the 30 to 36mm range
  • Long enough to mount on a 30-06 length action

I am intentionally not mentioning weight or overall length, since they vary greatly.  I do, however, want to weed out some ultra compact scopes since their usefullness is limited to only certain applications and their design has some limitations imposed by trying to make them extra short (Burris TImberline/Short Mag scopes, for example).  While tweener scopes are fairly compact, the best ones of the breed (IMO) are not overly short allowing their mounting on long actions.

By specifying the magnification range, I am also weeding out a few very capable scopes like Burris Signature Safari 1.75-5×32 and Weaver Grand Slam 1.75-5×32.  While these are excellent and much more versatile than most people give them credit for, I think they are aimed at different audiences and should be considered low range variables instead (another class of scopes I take a lot of interest in).

Why do I like tweener scopes? There are several reasons.  These scopes bridge the gap between low-range/DGR variables and full-size hunting scopes.  They offer enough magnification to shoot quite far out.  They offer sufficiently low magnification and wide field of view for fast shooting if need be.  While not optimal for low light, they have enough exit pupil for good low light performance at 4-5x.

From an optical standpoint, these scopes are usually not too difficult to build, so you can expect nice performance even at a moderate price point.  One caveat is that this “ease of design” can be easily countered by trying to make the scope too short.  One feature that is not talked about much is that the combination of a fairly long optical system and small objective lens yields greater depth of field.  That is one of the reasons why I added a requirement that they should be mountable on long-action scopes.  In practical terms, that implies mounting length of at least 5″ or so.  The overall length usually works out to be something between 11″ and 13″.  If you look up the specs of the scopes I list below, you will see that vast majority of them have overall length between 11″ and 11.5″.  Additionally, “tweener” configuration typically allows for generous and flexible eyerelief.  As far as reticles go, I prefer highly visible reticles that work well in low light (like the #4).  I will go over the reticle selection in available scopes a bit further below, but I am generally disappointed in most of the choices.

Until recently, the best (once again, in my opinion) tweener scope has been Kahles CL 2-7×36.  It is small and light while still having very good low light performance.  Mine has a very visible #4 reticle.  The catch is that Kahles does not currently have a US distributor and I have no idea about what is going to happen to Kahles in North America.  I hope they will partner with a new distributor soon.

Of the currently available tweener scopes, here are the better ones that I can think of that are made by reputable manufacturers:

Bushnell Elite 6500 1.25-8×32
Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8×32
Leupold VX-3 2.5-8×36
Nikon Monarch 2-8×32
Vortex Viper 2-7×32
Sightron S2 2.5-10×32

Here are a few more by the same manufacturers that are a bit cheaper (and lower performing):

Leupold VX-II 2-7×33
Vortex Diamondback 2-7×35
Burris Fulfield II 2-7×35
Bushnell Elite 3200 2-7×32
Weaver Classic 2.5-7×32
Mueller 2-7×32

There are some others I left out either because I have not run into them a whole lot or because I do not consider them to be worth the money.  Additionally, there are a few that are quite a bit more expensive and are targeted at somewhat different markets: for example there are a couple of very nice IOR scopes that are aimed at the tactical market (2-12×32 and 2-12×36), and a well regarded Nightforce 2.5-10×32.

For the time being I will stick to the scopes in the first group and discuss their comparative merits.  To forewarn the inevitable question of “which one is tougher”, I would expect all of these scopes to be equally durable. Either way, I do not have the means to conduct a statistically meaningful study needed to determine a particular design’s durability.

Kahles CL 2-7×36
This scope is/was available with either plex or #4 reticle either with Multizero or with a normal elevation knob.  The one I have has the Multizero know which works well, but is ultimately unnecessary for a scope of this type.  As far as reticles go, the #4 is one of my favourite allround choices and that is how my Kahles is configured.  Optically, Kahles CL is the best 1″ tube scope I have ever seen.  Mechanically, the adjustments are spot on and the scope has not given me any trouble so far.  It sits on one of my favourite rifles: a Tikka chambered for 280Rem.  From the low light performance stand point, this is the best of the tweener scope and by a good margin.  The eyepiece is of fairly large diameter, but it has not given me any trouble.  I think it matches well with the 36mm objective.

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Bushnel Elite 6500 1.25-8×32
I have only seen this scope at the SHOT show, although I hope to get my hands on one some time this year (with the economy being what it is, I am obvously not planning to spend too much money on optics this year, so we’ll see).  Optically, this scope is very good as is the rest of the Elite 4200/6500 line.  Mechanical quality and durability should be very good as well, but this is a new design and time will tell.  For the time being, there is only one reticle available: plex, which is really this scope’s only let down in my opinion.  Still, it s versatilty is unmatched in this group due to a large magnification range. Additionally, eye relief is impressively long at “5-6″ or so.  This scope seems to be designed for rifles with kick: 5″ of eye relief AND 5.9” of mounting length.  This is the only scope here with a 30mm tube, and it is the heaviest of the group.  The overall size is still pretty trim though.  Since I have only seen this scope once, I do not recall the exact dimensions of the reticle and the eyepiece, but I recall that the eyepiece seemed of fairly normal size and the reticle seemed quite thin.

Zeiss Conquest 2.5-8×32
This is one of the heavier and longer tweener scopes, but is still reasonably small.  Optically, it is a touch below the Kahles, but still excellent as is the rest of the Conquest line.  Eye relief is long and generous and doe snot chane with magnification.  All adjustments are smooth and reliable.  Ultimately, I like this scope, but it has two shortcomings.  One is reticle selection.  This scope is currently only available with a fairly thin plex reticle, which is one of my pet peeves.  For a scope of this type, I think a thicker and more visible reticle is a better way to go.  On a good side, Zeiss’s version of the plex reticle is very sharp and well defined.  Still, this is not a target scope that benefits from a thin reticle.  Another complaint (of a sort) I have is the fat eyepiece.  One of the advantages of the 32mm objective is the latitude in mounting height.  With the Conquest, on some rifles, the limiting factor in how low the scope can be mounted is the eypiece.  On rifles with reasonably short bolt lift, it makes no difference.  On balance, this is a wonderful scope that could really benefit from a thicker reticle.

Leupold VX-3
To put it bluntly, I am not a big Leupold fan, but I like the new VX-3 scopes.  As far as configurations go, my favourite Leupold scope for quite some time has been the 2.5-8×36 (actual magnification range is 2.6-7.8x).  If you are looking for a tweener scope that performs as close as possible to “full size” models, this is a good choice.  Mechanically, it is too early to tell how these hold up since VX-3 scopes are pretty new.  However, VX-III line was well regarded and I expect the redesign to not diminish that in any way.  Optically, the new VX-3 is a little better than its predecessor with a more contrasty image.  36mm objective allows for very respectable low light performance.  The two available reticles are pretty thin: duplex and B&C are probably there because they were popular with this scope’s predecessors in the VX-III line.  That makes total sense from a marketing standpoint, but makes little sense to me from performance standpoint.  Perhaps, I am alone on this one.
If you are looking for a scope with a thick and heavy reticle for a DGR rifle or something similar, the 1.75-6×32 is an excellent choice.  I did not list it above since the actual magnification (1.9-5.5x) falls below my self-imposed 6x limit, but it is worth looking at.  Unlike most scopes here it is available with a heavy plex reticle that makes for very fast target acquisition in low light (do keep in mind that the 1.75-6×32 has a touch less eye relief than the 2.5-8×36).
One of the things that I find disappointing with both of these scopes is the variable eyerelief.  I used not care about that too much, but recently I’ve been finding the need to reposition my head for different magnification annoying.

Nikon Monarch 2-8×32
Monarch is another scope line that I am generally not very “hot” on with the exception of the 2-8×32.  Some of the complaints I have about Leupold VX-3 and Zeis Conquest above, equally apply to the Monarch: reticle selection and fat eyepiece (the eyepieces on the Monarch, VX-3 and Conquest are of about the same diameter, but Leupold has a larger objective to make it look a bit better balanced).  Neither is a very big deal to most people.  Image quality is very good and eye relief is nice and long.  Eye relief is also consistent with respect to magnification: no need to readjust where your head is.  The two available reticles are plex and BDC.  I am not a big fan of either, but I will say that the BDC reticle is bolder than most other holdover reticles out there with those little circles making pretty quick aiming marks.

Vortex Viper 2-7×32
For the money, this is probably my favourite scope of the bunch.  Optically, it is quite good.  Easily on par with Leupold and Monarch.  I do not know if it is better (perhaps I will try to arrange a side-by-side), but it is certainly not worse.  Eye relief is long and flexible.  Similarly to the Monarch, it also stays constant with magnification.  Eyepiece on this scope is fairly slim (smallest in diameter here, I think), but it is still of the fast-focus type.  As far as reticle selection goes, I think Vortex has gotten it almost right and has an advantage over most of the competition.  There are three reticles available: plex, BDC and C3.  Pex reticle is quite thin.  BDC is a fair bit thicker (thick lines are about twice thicker than plex),  C3 is a little thicker than BDC and has a circle surrounding the center crosshair.  Predictably, I like the C3 reticle the most out of them all.  It is still not an ideal low light reticle, but the circle is a big help for fast target acquisition.

Sightron S2 2.5-10×32
I was not entirely sure whether this scope belongs in this group, but I figured I’ll add it in.  If you want a scope of the tweener size that give you a bit more magnificaiton, this is not a bad choice.  On the flip side, the eye relief is somewhat critical.  Optically, I think the S2 is a touch worse than other scopes in this group, but quite decent.  This scope is only available with one reticle: simple plex.  It is not as thin as some other plex  reticles I have seen (such as the Vortex V-Plex), but it is by no means a heavy reticle.

Now, which ones do I like?  Quite frankly, I like all of the scopes I listed here, although for different reasons.

If low light performace is of particular importance and your budget allows it, it is worth your while to look for the Kahles CL 2-7×36 with #4 reticle.  I am very happy with mine.

If Kahles is not in your budget, the new VX-3 is a good choice with a 36mm objectiv elens giving you a slight edge over the 32mm offerings.

If you are on a budget, Vortex Viper 2-7×32 is probably your best option.  It has very good performance at a reasonable price.  Monarch 2-8×32 is priced about the same, but I slightly prefer the Vortex due to the reticle selection and thinner eyepiece.

If you want a holdover reticle, it is available in the Leupold, Vortex and Nikon.  Just pick the one you like the most.

As far as mounting goes, I do not remember the specs for all of these scopes, but I am pretty sure the diameter of the ocular goes like this (from low to high):

Vortex Viper < Sightron S2 < Nikon Monarch = Leupold VX-3 = Zeiss Conquest < Kahles CL

I am not exactly sure where the Elite 6500 fits here.

As far as mounting length goes, I do not remember what it is for the Conquest and Monarch, but the other scopes are ranked in the following order (from high to low):

Elite 6500 > Kahles CL > Vortex Viper > Sightron S2 > Leupold VX-3

I think Monarch and Conquest have pretty long mounting lengths similar to Kahles, but I can’t recall the numbers.  Leupold VX-3 1.75-6×32 scope has about the same tube length as the Kahles.

Optical quality (from high to low):

Kahles CL > Conquest >= Elite 6500 ~= VX-3 ~= Vortex Viper >= Monarch > Sightron S2

Essentially, Kahles CL is better than the others, SIghtron S2 is a little worse.  The rest are very comparable.

Ultimately, if you rifle has a high bolt lift and you want your scope mounted as low as possible, Viper is worth a look.

If you are trying to mount one of these scopes on a particularly long action, I suggest you figure out the exact ring spacing you need before ordering one (or order the Elite 6500 which should fit on just about everything and have enough eye relief for just about anything).

If you expect to encounter very challenging lighting conditions, get the Kahles.  In that regard, it is still the king of the hill.

Then again, this is all just my opinion, and I could be wrong.

 Posted by at 5:20 am