Riflescopes: Under $1200

 

Updated in January 2024

 

General disclaimer: due to dissatisfaction with their business practices, I will no longer review or recommend any Swarovski/Kahles products, so the few I had here last year have been removed.

 

This is one of the more interesting price segments to watch since around $1k is sort of a comparatively common “pain” threshold for a lot of people in the US. It is still a lot of money, but it is within range of a very wide audience, so I field a lot of questions on “what to get for $1k or thereabouts”.  I will admit though that I am also getting a LOT of questions on what to get for $2000, so perhaps the “pain threshold” is moving up.  A lot of the questions are along the lines: “I can spend up to $2k on a scope for my match gun and up to $1k on a scope for my precision rimfire”, for example.  Then, when I follow with the people who wanted to spend $2k, more than half of them ended up spending around $1k.  In other words, this is an important category and given the inflation I bumped the cutoff point up to $1200.

 

Low Range Variables:

There are surprisingly few changes here.  Delta Stryker HD 1-6×24 for around $850 is still the bang for the buck choice here with good optics and day bright reticle illumination.  The decision between SFP and FFP LPVOs really comes down to how far you want to shoot.  If you lean toward a true DMR application, FFP is very appealing.  For staying mostly within the MPBR, SFP has a lot to offer.  With 1-6x scopes I can go either FFP or SFP.  Delta is SFP and so is the Vortex Razor Gen IIE 1-6×24, but it has really moved up in price.  EOTech and Trijicon also make FFP 1-6×24 designs that are pretty competent if the reticle works for you, but they are a little above the cutoff here.  I do see occasional discounts, so they are worth mentioning. 

The LPVO that tends to fly under the radar is SAI6 1-6×24 that is not available with a mrad reticle in addition to a couple of BDC designs.  It is a very unassuming scope on paper, but the whole thing is somehow more than just the sum of the parts.  There is something different about the eyepiece, so it is very easy to get behind despite the scope being quite light.  It is also a bit over the threshold here, but might be worth it.

If you want a simple SFP 1-6×24 without having to worry about batteries, Trijicon Accupoint 1-6×24 is a respectable option.  They used to be overpriced, but as the market moved up, they stayed at the same essential price.  Now, they are a decent deal and if you want green or amber illumination, this is your best option.

If your interests lean more toward the DMR type usevand you want more magnification than 6x, Athlon Ares ETR 1-10×24 FFP is a bit heavy and the illumination is not quite bright enough on 1x.  However, the reticle is good for mid-range use and optomechanical quality is excellent.  Together with an offset red dot, it is a very capable set up for an accurate AR carbine.

PA’s GLx 1-10×24 is worth mentioning here as well, but I still need to test it.  It looked like a very respectable scope, but I only took a brief look.  $800 price tag is certainly very appealing.

 

General Purpose Hunting:

In many ways, the general purpose 3-9x 42 hunting scopes of twenty years ago have been largely replaced by 2-10×42 and 3-15×42 designs that are not much bigger and heavier, but offer a fair bit more capability. Vortex Razor HD-LHT 3-15×42 and 3-15×50 scopes used to be my choice here, but the price went up.  Other competent designs I suggest you check out are Leupold VX-5HD 2-10×42 and 3-15×44. I think they all need some help with reticles, but they are good scopes.  Swaro Z3 is excellent optically, but still has a 3x erector which is not as flexible. To be fair, 3x erectors worked fine 20 years ago and works fine now.  For shooting within MPBR these are hard to beat.  Given that I am partial to illuminated reticles, Firedot versions of Leupold’s VX-5HD are very appealing.  If you like green illumination, Trijicon Accupoint 2.5-12.5×42 is a pretty nice scope.  Generally, this is a category where Trijicon’s Accupoint and Credo scopes acquit themselves really well.

If you like FFP for hunting, take a look at the Precision/crossover scopes below.  Also, keep in mind that Leupold just announced their new FFP Mark 4HD scopes.  I have a strong suspicion that the 2.5-10×42 with illuminated TMR reticle will be an extremely strong contender here.

If you are not looking for a lot of magnification in a SFP scope, I am really impressed with Delta Titanium HD 1.5-9×45.  It is perfect on my BLR in 300WSM.  It is a revival of the classic European 1.5-6×42 scope except with a bit more magnification and a bit larger objective.  Low light performance is excellent.  The cool thing about this one is that it has the same fiber illuminated reticle design as the 1-6×24 Stryker. On 1.5x, it is quite fast. These scopes cross over between general hunting and driven game.  The 2D reticle is a very clever evolution of the classic German #4 design.  The center post comes a little further up, so that you have better visibility in low light even without reticle illumination.  Horizontally, there are a couple of extra dots for lead holds on low power or wind holds on high power.  It is a great example of a very simple, yet capable design.

Lastly, I’d keep an eye out to see if S&B’s Klassic 3-12×42 with P3L reticle dips into your price range.  

 

Low Light:

 Meopta Meostar 3-12×56 is an absolutely world class low light hunting scope… that has gone up in price.  Trijicon’s Accupoint and Credo are still well within this category and are very good.  Credo 2.5-15×56 if you want battery powered illumination.  Accupoint 2.5-10×56 is it you want fiber optic illumination and lower cost.  Personally, I’d lean toward the latter since top end magnification is not critical for me and it is around $700.

The scopes that really fly under the radar a lot are Hungarian made S&B Klassik and none of them are as ignored as the 8×56 that is absolutely stunning in low light.  I like the simplicity of fixed power scopes and this would be at the top of my list right next to the Klassic 2.5-10×56

 

 

High Power/Target/ Long Range/Varminting :

This recommendation has not changed since I have not found anything under $1k that is better than Sightron SIII 6-24×50 and 8-32×56.  They have gone up in price a bit, but you can still find them in this price range rather comfortably.  

A newer option is Athlon’s Ares ETR 15-60×56

 

Tactical, Crossover and Precision Shooting:

This category has seen a lot of turnover and some of my previous recommendations have been discontinued.

I like Vortex PST Gen2 3-15×44 and PST Gen2 5-25×50 quite a lot, especially the 3-15×44.  It is easily the best of the PST Gen2 line and it has been out for a few years.  We know it is built well.

The best scope in this category for the money used to be Brownells MPO 3-18×50, but it is no longer available.  Riton’s X7 3-18×50 is the same scope with a different reticle.

Element Titan 3-18×50 is toward the lower end of this price range and is very competent.  I do not like that the whole reticle is illuminated.

If you are looking for a bit more magnification than other options here, Meopta Optika6 5-30×56 with MRAD reticle is very competent, but I might be partial since it is my reticle design.  It is very discounted at the moment.  I also  like the Optika6 3-18×50, but the MPO is better at the same magnification range (and $100 more at regular prices, so you have to decide what your budget is).   Athlon Ares ETR scopes are somewhat similar with the 4.5-30×56 being the better one of the Ares lineup.  APRS1 reticle in it is very functional.

I suspect that Ares ETR and Optika6 are related design.  Delta Javelin 4.5-30×56, to my eyes, looks very similar as well.  The biggest difference between them is probably the turret configuration and the reticles.

Lastly, Trijicon makes a FFP 2-10×36 DMR-ish scope that is quite nice and has a good reticle.  EOTech’s FFP 2.5-10×44 is competent, but I am not happy with the reticle options.  These do offer notable better 10x performance than LPVOs.  I would not overlook Trijicon Credo 2-10×36 with an offset red dot as a good option for an accurate AR.

If you are looking to potentially use a thermal clip-on, 2x on the low end is very helpful, so I am testing Blackhound’s Emerge 2-12×44.  There are a couple of configuration decisions with it that make me scratch my head a little, but it is a very nice scope optomechanically

Finally, in terms of a little everything for the money, the two scopes that are probably the ones to beat are Burris XTR 3i 3.3-18×50 and Tract Toric 2.5-15×44.

Burris if you primary interest is precision, but you want to cross over into hunting.

Tract if your primary purpose is hunting, but you want to cross over into precision.

 

Red Dots, Prismatics and Magnifiers:

To be honest with you, I would not spend this much money on red dots or magnifiers without something else int he mix.

Something else in the mix would be the MOR Pro from Meprolight.  MOR as a standalone sight that has redundant illumination systems and two laser pointers: vis and IR.  That sorta justifies the bulk.

With compact sights, there is always the Aimpoint Micro T2, but it is expensive and I am beginning to prefer having reticle holdover marks if I am to pair the reflex sight with a magnifier (like in Sig Romeo4T and quite a few others).  Still, T2 is an excellent choice if you are willing to pay for the name.

With magnifiers, there have been some new entries, but for the moment, the only higher dollar one I like is the Aimpoint 6x.  With Aimpoint’s twist mount it is an unusual, but effective, take on a magnifier and handheld monocular in one.  I have one, but I am not convinced it is worth the money.

Lastly, I’ll mention that Trijicon’s unique Compact ACOG 1.5×16 is a strange little alternative to a red dot, but there are many situations where a little magnification goes a long way.  I have one set up with offset XTI irons from XS Sights (which are also something I truly recommend and use on several guns).  Whether you are willing to pay that much for a tiny prismatic is up to you.  Bang for the buck champs of the prismatic universe are in lower price ranges: Element Immersive 5×30 and Primary Arms GLx 2×20.  I like prismatic scopes and have at least a dozen of them here.  If they all disappeared and I had to start over, it would be these two. 

That having been said, Trijicon’s 3×30 ACOG is a fairly unique design with narrow FOV and incredibly flexible eye relief.  It does not really have a lower price equivalent.  The narrow FOV is a trade off for that eyerelief.  It makes it less ideal for observation, but really quick for aiming.  If you shop around you can even find these for under $1k.  None of these have adjustable eyepiece, so they may not be ideal for aging eyes, but low magnification mitigates that to some degree and 3×30’s FOV/eye relief balance does as well.

 

 Posted by at 7:23 am

  24 Responses to “Riflescopes: Under $1200”

  1. For hunting use, if you had to choose between the following, what would be your go to? This is going on my 300 WSM. I already have American Rifle Company rings in 30mm, but could sell them to get 1″ rings.

    Right now, I’m using a Viper PST 2.5-10×32 FFP. I really like the optic, but I’d love capped windage turrets since it keeps spinning when I hike with my rifle slung.

    – Burris Veracity 2-10×42 Plex E1 for $625 USD
    – Leica ERi 2.5-10×42 Ballistic for $1100 USD
    – Leupold VX-5HD 3-15×44 Impact-29 for $1000 USD
    – Vortex Razor HD LH 2-10×40 G4-BDC for $700 USD

    I know they’re all over the place in terms of price / feature set. I carry a laser rangefinder, but also know how to range using reticles relatively quickly, as such FFP is nice, but not critical.

    I hunt to 30 minutes after dusk which means illumination is nice, but not critical as well, especially with a thicker reticle.

    And I’d prefer to keep the gun lighter if possible.

    Is any of the glass going to blow me away? Are any of those options truly stand out?

    Thanks!!

    • There is quite a bit of variance there.

      In terms of optics, ERi is the best scope in your list.
      Razor HD LH and VX-5HD are pretty close with a small edge to Razor HD LH.
      Veracity is very respectable for the money, but not quite as good as the rest of these in terms of optics.

      If you can find a Leica for a good price, it is hard to counsel against that. It is a really solid scope. If you are interested in a little more magnification on the top end, I am probably going to put up my VX-6HD 3-18×44 with Impact 29 for sale fairly soon. With Impact 29, you need reticle illumination. by itself, it is not great in low light.

      G4 BDC reticle in the Vortex was sorta conceived as a general purpose reticle design, so it works well in low light and the scope itself is nice and trim.

      ERi was available with different reticles, so I am not sure which exact one you are looking for. Both Ballistic and IBS reticels are essentially mil-scale designs on 10x, so they are easy to use, but they are also a touch on the thin side in the center, so they need illumination.

      Veracity, while not illuminated is pretty well designed and those tapering bars are very helpful on low mag. I am not big on BDCs, so if you were looking at the Burris 2-10×42, I would lean toward the XTR II with G2B reticle.

  2. Hi DLO,

    Have you had a chance to look at the Hawke 5-30×50 Frontier scope? If you have, how does it compare to the Athlon Midas BTR SFP scope? Looking for a budget scope for shooting paper targets at 100 yards. Thanks!

  3. Thanks. I ended up taking advantage of the Ares BTR sale and ordered on of those. I might pick up a Hawke later on if I end up building another AR upper. I’m glad there is someone like you that takes the time and does the hard work of evaluating scopes and letting us know what’s good and what’s not.

  4. Hello, I came across the novel scope Vanguard Endeavor RS VII 1-7×44. A low-power variable optic with LARGE objective lens. 599 USD.

    I wonder how this performs, and thought you might be the perfect guy for reviewing it. Would love a comparison against for example a Vortex PST Gen II 1-6×24, or cheaper options (like for exampleVortex Strike Eagle 1-8×24) and more expensive options (like for example Vortex Razor Gen II 1-6×24).

    • I have not seen that scope. I’ll take a look at SHOT. Generally, if they are using that large of an objective in a moderately priced scope that goes down to 1x, chances are that the FOV is quite narrow.

      I’ll let you know if I get any insight at SHOT next month. Generally, Vanguard is not a big name in riflescopes, but their product line has been growing, so I am happy to see them take some risks.

      ILya

    • Based on their respective product descriptions, I compared the Vanguard’s field of view to the Swarovski Z6i and Z8i, which I’ve heard are known for their generous field of view.

      Swarovski Z8i 1-8×24
      FOV: 24.0-3.0 deg

      Swarovski Z6i 1-6×24
      FOV: 23.8-3.9 deg

      Vanguard RS VII 1-7×44
      FOV: 17.5-2.3 deg

      Does this look “bad”? What other problems do you suspect might arise with such a large objective lens? A large exit pupil is tempting is tempting both for faster target acquisition and a brighter image on high magnification, but I am not sure what other factors I may be sacrificing.

    • In linear units:

      Z8i 1-8×24
      FOV: 42.5-5.3 m at 100 m

      Z6i 1-6×24
      FOV: 42.5-6.8 m at 100 m

      RS VII 1-7×44
      FOV: 38.8-5.9 m at 100 m

      • Sorry, an error sneaked in. The last linear number was for the RS VI 1-6×24. The RS VII is supposed to have a linear FOV of 30.5-4.1 m at 100 m.

        Nonetheless, it is interesting to compare the Endeavour 1-6×24 and 1-7×44:
        – Endeavour 1-6×24: 22.3–3.4 deg (38.8–5.9 m at 100 m)
        – Endeavour 1-7×44: 17.5–2.3 deg (30.5–4.1 m at 100 m)

        • OK, so my guess was correct and the 44mm objective scope has substantially narrower FOV.

          I will go to SHOT and take a look at image fidelity, but FOV this much narrower will likely slow down your target acquisition substantially.

          Generally, there is a good reason why most of the scopes of this type tend to have comparatively small objectives (I have a video on that on Youtube), but manufacturers are clearly learning how to bump up the objective diameter for LPVOs bit by bit. Blaser 1-7×28 I tested not long ago is really impressive, for example.

          ILya

        • Found your video:
          DLO Explanations: Why do LPVOs have small objectives?
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E7W3NbhvIU

          Seems clear to me that if you want a larger objective (for more light and a larger exit pupil), but you don’t want to sacrifice field of view and depth of field, then you would have to increase the length of the scope and the diameter of the internal lenses. This makes the scope larger and heavier. At around 11:30 you also say that such a scope will be harder to use. Can you elaborate on that?

          I just wanted to confirm another thing: Adding side focus is not desirable on a LPVO. Is this primarily because LPVO are intended for fast shooting, where adjusting a side focus becomes unwanted hassle?

          • Adding side focus, in principle, is not necessarily a bad thing on an LPVO, but for most situations where such a scope would be used it is an unnecessary complication. However, if you plan to use your LPVO at extended range or at close ranges, then a side focus is a very useful thing to have. Basically, if you want to use a LPVO as a true general purposes scope, March 1-8×24 or 1-10×24 is one of your better options partly because it has side focus.

            The comment on “harder to use” primarily pertains to field of view, depth of field and overall bulk and weight of LPVOs with large-ish objectives. I will say that the current crop of 28-30mm objective lens LPVOs is pretty decent, but it is not clear how much farther we can easily go without making too many sacrifices.

  5. Hi Ilya,
    I’m thinking of getting the 3-18x MPO for a new 6 ARC gas gun but also am considering the Razor Gen ii 3-18 which costs a bit more. Is the Razor a significant upgrade over the MPO? Any other ones to consider in this price range? What’s your expert opinion on this? Thanks!

    • Razor is definitely a step up in image quality, but it is also a step up in weight and price. For me, as much as I like the 3-18×50 Razor, it is a bit heavier than I want on a gas gun. However, if you are mostly shooting from bench or prone, it will work very well.
      You sorta need to converge on the type of shooting you do, the physical envelope you are willing to put on a gas gun and on the price your are willing to pay. For a general purpose scope on a gas gun, for $1k, MPO 3-18×50 is still my overall choice. However, if this is a larger gun, there are now deals on the Athlon Cronus 4.5-29×56 where you can pick it up in the $1200 range (there is a Gen2 coming). It is a larger and heavier scope, but for long range, it is a better scope.
      Also in the $1200 range is the Tract Toric UHD 4-20×50. FOV is a touch narrower than I like, but it is a very solid design and center performance is better than MPO. However, for standing/kneeling/etc shooting I prefer the MPO due to less perceived shake on 3x and much better reticle visibility on low power.
      I am in the planning stages of an accurate general purpose 6mm ARC, but since I am aiming for mine to by under 10 lbs with optics, all of these will be a bit heavy. This is the kind of thing where you really have to have very clear requirements.

  6. Oh and the Burris XTR III, which doesn’t have illumination. How does it compare with the MPO and Razor?

    • I have not tested it thoroughly yet. From what I’ve seen, it is a step up from MPO. Not sure about the Razor. I do not plan to test one until they bring out reticle illumination.

  7. Thank you very much again for the great info and advice!

    • My pleasure. Do keep in mind that I will be locking down the ability to comment on this website fairly soon. It will stay up as home to my recommendations and similar stuff, but the discussion and Q&A will be on darklordofoptics.com

  8. Great updates for 2022!. What would you recommend in this price range for a sub 2 power optic for an SBR? I have astigmatism and red dots don’t seem to work well.

    • Are you looking for a prismatic or LPVO? Any of the compact LPVOs would likely do well, like the upcoming Primary Arms PLxC 1-8×24. Alternatively, if you like fixed power, inexpensive small prismatics work well on SBRs.