Riflescopes: Under $3000

 

Updated in February, 2022

This category is new for this year and it is mostly here for two reasons:

  1. prices on riflescopes have been going up, so another category was needed. $2500 is a lot of money, but with the very top end scopes going for over $4k, it is a separate category.
  2. I started looking at thermals more carefully and you can actually buy perfectly serviceable stuff for $3k.

Let’s start with the different categories in no particular order.

Hunting scopes

If you prefer SFP scopes, between $2k and $2k are Leica Magnus, Swarovski Z8 and Zeiss V8. They are all excellent and the choice between them comes down to personal preferences.  I find that Leica Magnus agrees with my eyes the best out of these, but I would not fault you with going with any one of these.  Historically, Leica, Magnus 1.5-10×42 or 2-12×50 would be my choice for a general purpose hunting scope.

I have to admit though, that I like small scopes and march’s new 1.5-15×42 may very well be my choice when you need the most flexibility.  For something low light optimized, I would look out for a good deal on S&B Polar 3-12×54 or 4-16×56.

For a LPVO to put on a DGR rifle, Leica makes a 1-6x3x24 Magnus, but going down in price a little to the under $2k territory offers a lot of competent options.  I”d be tempted to go with one of those.

Long range precision

This one used to be a harder choice, but I have to admit that from what I have seen so far, I think the ew Vortex Razor HD Gen3 6-36×56 takes this one.  Minox ZP5 is probably a bit better optically, but as an overall package Gen 3 is the king here.  

Generally, we are looking at a broad range of FFP scopes here and there is a lot to choose from.  With 56mm objective designs, Razor Gen3 takes the cake, but as we go down to smaller scopes, there are many good options.  Razor Gen3 is, for the time being available with a tree reticle only.  If you prefer a simpler reticle design, Leica PRS 5-20×56 with L-Ballistic reticle is worth looking at.  For a lighter wight option while still maintaining a 56mm objective, Leupold Mark5HD 5-25×56 is finally available with illuminated PR2-MIL reticle.

 
If you are looking for something with a 50mm objective, there are several good options.  The one that has really been growing on me is US Optics FDN 17x 3.2-17×50.  I am not a big fan of tunneling on this scope, but this scope has wide FOV about 5x, excellent eyepiece and a very nice elevation turret.

It is not short though, so if you want something more compact, Leupold finally made a version of the 3.6-18×44 with illuminated PR1-MIL reticle.

Another good crossover design is March’s 3-24×52 with the new FML-TR1H reticle.  It is a little finicky on higher magnifications, but it is robust and lightweight with very broad magnification range and excellent image quality.

Lastly, if you are not looking for a ton of magnification, I really like Nightforce ATACR 4-16×42.

The last three are also really good choice for accurate gas guns.

LPVOs

I think Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10×24 owns this one.  Nightforce ATACR 1-8×24 is a nice design as well, although the Razor Gen3 edges it out.  If you are not looking for a high end FFP LPVO, you do not not need to spend this much money.

The dark horse here is March’s dual focal plane 1-10×24.  It is now available with a tree reticle and if I were looking for an LPVO as a general purpose scope, this would be my pick. Because it has both SFP and FFP reticles, it also works quite well if your battery is dead.  Naturally, it does not hurt that is also smaller and lighter than the competition.

Target Shooting

March owns this one.  For $3k you can get March 10-60×56 High Master.

Thermal

I have not yet been able to really cover the entirety of this market segment, so I can only speak to what I have seen.  If I were shopping for a thermal scope or clip-on in the $3k range, I’d probably get Burris’ BTS50 or BTC50.  50 in this case stands for the focal length of the lens which, in turn determines the FOV of the optic.  For my own purposes, I use the BTC50 clip-on in front of an LPVO for hunting pigs at night.  With thermal scopes and clip-ons there are essentially two available resolutions: VGA (640×480) and QVGA (320×240).  Higher resolution thermal sensors are still really expensive.  Within these two sizes, there are some small variations in pixel counts, but when you have so few pixels to work with, small variations matter.  With VGA sensors, it is usually 640×480 or 640×512.  Thermal riflescopes with VGA sensors do not really exist yet for $3k, so they are outside the scope of this discussion.  With QVGA, here is surprising amount of variation in pixel counts with the most common formats seeming to be 320×240 and 384×288.  Burris adds a few more pixels here to the tune of 400×300.  Now, with any of these formats, a few pixels are used for sighting in, but still, extra 20 pixels is a 5% bump in FOV with the same lens focal length.

At the time when this is written, if you purchase a BTC 50 clip-on, you get a free Burris RT-6 scope.  That’s a pretty good deal overall.

 Posted by at 10:08 am

  5 Responses to “Riflescopes: Under $3000”

  1. I’m seeing a terrible trend of even high end scopes not fully illuminating the reticle. I’m looking to replace my Meostar R2 1-6 with something that illuminates the entire reticle. ATACR 1-8, Razor 1-10, Kahles/Swaro1-8, and March 1-10 do not. Minox ZP8 does, but it’s also 7oz heavier than my Meostar and I still don’t love it for $3000. Any ideas?

    • Honestly, I much prefer scopes where not the entire reticle is illuminated. It is a demonstrably bad idea to illuminate the whole thing unless you are taking advantage of varying illumination methods like Elcan does with the Specter or like S&B does with the Dual CC 1-8×24

  2. I think you are talking about dual focal plane scopes like the ZP8. March F series is dual focal plane and manages to only illuminate a tiny dot. It looks like cynical cost cutting to me.

    • No, not necessarily. Either way, I assure you it is not a cost cutting measure. The CHEAPEST thing you can do is illuminate the whole reticle. Brightly illuminating a dot in the center is harder and more expensive. Aside from that, I re-iterate that from the perspective of using a scope, illuminating the whole reticle is usually a terrible idea. I did a whole discussion of reticle illumination technologies a while back during a live show. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI8Q75Rv2pw&t=2s

  3. Hello, Ilya! How does the new Razor Gen 3 6-36×56 compare to the new Sightron SVIII 5-40×56 as far as optical performance? Thank you!