Riflescopes: Over $3000 / No Price Limitations

 

Updated in January 2024

General disclaimer: due to dissatisfaction with their business practices, I will no longer review or recommend any Swarovski/Kahles products.

Hunting Scopes:

Most really high end hunting scopes I have looked at have had SFP reticles.  Leica Magnus was my favourite in many ways, but it is either discontinued or no longer imported into the US.  Generally, between Zeiss V8 and a couple of S&B scopes, a lot comes down to personal preference.  S&B has been fairly active here recently with an excellent Exos 3-21×50 that has a really clever elevation turret with excellent optics.  The new Meta 3-18×42 is a lot lighter and is optically and mechanically spectacular.  I am done testing it, but need to publish my review.  It is an easy recommendation.  US version has narrower FOV than Euro version due to some irritating lawfare.

Zeiss V8 scopes have been redesigned with the tube getting smaller and flare control getting better.  They are fairly compelling scopes, except they all have MOA adjustments.  That’s not my thing, but if you are a stone age (i.e. MOA) kind of guy, Zeiss V8 scopes are quite nice.

Something along those same lines, but FFP would be Blaser Infinity 2.8-20×50 or 4-20×58.  Note that Blaser decided to use a much lower 4x erector ratio for the more expensive 4-20×58.  That allowed them to use a notably higher performing objective lens system that is excellent in low light.  Blaser 1-7×28 would my choice for a DGR or generally for a hunting oriented LPVO.  All the Blaser scopes do have a simple #4 reticle though.  Blaser scopes require rail mounts, which is generally a much better way to mount scopes than conventional rings.  Unfortunately, it is not well accepted in the US.  When I tested Blaser scopes, I used a Recknagel mount: https://www.sportoptics.com/zeiss-recknagel-railmount-weaver-hex-detach.html that is not too expensive.  If I were doing it now, I would probably also look at Rusan.  Blaser scopes are very nice, but so eyewateringly expensive, they make several S&B look affordable.  These are very high quality scopes, but with simple #4 reticles and single turn turrets.  That makes me balk at the price a little.

If I were looking to get one general purpose high end hunting scope, I’d go FFP with a somewhat more sophisticated reticle.  Now, it is a hunting scope, so I am not looking for something particularly complicated, but more than the basic #4 or plex.  That really means Tangent Theta TT315H 3-15×50 Hunter. It is really expensive and really good.  The reticle is thicker than on precision TT scopes for low light use and turrets with free spinning collars prevent accidental adjustment.   Another contender to that crown is probably S&B 4-16×56 Polar with P4 or P4FL reticle.  If you are really focused on low light, Schmidt’s larger objective is worth considering.  

 

Tactical scopes:

There is quite a lot to choose from here and the recommendations have not changed all that much. I continue to use and like Tangent Theta scopes.  I think they are the best overall, but with high end scopes a lot of this is about personal preference and the factual differences are really slim.  

I have TT315M with Gen 2 XR and TT525P with Gen 3XR reticle.  Today, I would have gotten the TT315M with Gen3XR as well.  Both of these reticles get pretty thin on low power.  I am OK with it on the 5-25×56, but on the 3-15×50, I keep on going back and forth on whether I prefer the TT315M or the TT315H.  The hunting version of this scope (above) comes with a simpler, but more visible reticle.

There is one more Tangent now, the 7-35×56.  It is an exceptionally nice scope.  Compared to the 5-25×56, the AFOV is narrower, but it focuses closer and has a more forgiving eyebox.  For me, low magnification is typically more important than high magnification, so I’d be inclined to stick with the 5-25x version.  YMMV.  For many people I know, the 7-35x would offer an advantage.

Zero Compromise Optics (ZCO), S&B and March are all going after the Tangent’s crown and make fairly compelling case for it too.  Overall, I still think Tangent edges out the competition, but by a hair and personal preference plays a role.  Tangent turrets have some sort of vudoo in them and depth of field is quite remarkable.  Still, I can make a compelling case for any of the competitors as well.

ZCO has really excellent 5-27×56 and 4-20×50 models. I think the 4-20×50 is a standout in its size range, but the 5-27x is facing stiffer competition.  There is also the newer 8-40×56 that is quite nice.  I have spent more time with the first two.  They are all very good, but I stand by the 4-20×50 as being the most compelling of the three.  With the 8-40x, the couple I have seen looked good, but I have several confirmed reports of multiple substandard ones out there.  I really do not know what to make of that.  ZCO’s new non-locking 10mrad per turn elevation turret is quite exceptional as well.

S&B’s new 6-36×56 is quite impressive and is less expensive by ZCO and, by an even bigger margin, than Tangent.  For now, there are two reticle options: GR2ID and P5FL.  If one of these works for you, I’ll take this scope over the ZCO. I happen to prefer the GR2ID reticle, but it does get a little bit big on 36x.  P5FL is a better option for people who primarily use turrets for range compensation.   There are several different turrets available.  I am very partial to DTII+.  I think these are the best locking turrets on the market.  US version of this scope has narrower FOV than the Euro version due to lawfare by the Austrian contingent.  The impressive thing about the S&B is how well it is optimized across the whole mag range.  It is easy to get behind and it really has no glaring weaknesses.  Depth of field and microcontrast are not quite as good as the Tangent, but a bit ahead of the ZCO.  All three are are pretty close, but S&B is the only one under $4k.

March’s 5-42×56 with FML-TR1 reticle that I designed for them (FML-3 is also my design) also belongs in this conversation and if you shoot paper more than steel and like lots of magnification, March would probably be my choice.  Shallower depth of field is beneficial for paper shooting (easier to achieve perfect focus and parallax optimization).  It is also the smallest and lightest option of the 56mm scopes.   The Gen2 version of the March has better optical performance toward the edges of the adjustment range.

If you are looking for a short scope to put on a gas gun or to use with a clip-on, S&B’s Ultra Short 5-20×50 with DTII+ turrets and MSR2 reticle would be at the top of my list.  The 4-20×50 ZCO is a bit better optically, but longer.   

March 4.5-28×52 is another interesting compact option.  Exit pupil on it is a little small, so it is not an ideal pick for low light use, but as a compact and light precision scope it has a lot going for it.  March has very wide FOV, so despite being 4.5x on the low end, it still works OK with thermal clip-ons intended for longer range.  Of all of the short-ish high end scopes, the 4.5-28×52 March has the best flare control and really rather exceptional image fidelity in adverse lighting condition.

Lastly, Zeiss has been quite active with riflescopes again and the S5 3.6-18×50 was quite compelling.  Like with ZCO, I think the lower mag option is more compelling than the higher mag one.  I like the mrad reticle and the illumination is done very well.  The turrets are very big and the FOV is a little narrow.  Beyond that, it is absolutely an alpha level scope.

 

Tactical Scopes with EO Integration:

I expect this category to grow, so it is time to separate it out.  There are no major changes since last year.  I expect new options at SHOT next week though.

For now, on the high end, it comes down to Revic and Steiner IFS.  Revic is due for a Gen2 which should be coming in the not too distant future.  In the meantime, IFS has gone through some changes and is looking really good.  If I were picking a precision riflescope with integrated ballistics right now, it would be Steiner 2.9-20×50 IFS.  One of the incredibly useful things both Revic and IFS do is show you how much has been dialed with the turrets as you continue looking through the scope.

 

Crossover Scopes:

Sometimes I call these “general purpose tactical” as well.  These are, essentially, FFP precison riflescopes that weigh 30 ounces or less and are equally at home on a precision rifle and on a hunting rifle (especially out west).

Tangent Theta TT315M (3-15×50 on a 30mm tube) with Gen 3 XR weighing 27 ounces is probably my overall pick here as it has been for a few years now.  The dual focal plane version of March 1.5-15×42 is a very compelling crossover design as well, but since it is right at three grand it sneaks into a lower price category.

 

Low Power Variable Optic:

S&B PMII 1-8×24 Dual CC is the highest end LPVO on the market today and it significantly more expensive than anything else.  It is really excellent and MDR-T6 reticle is very nicely done.  As is always the case in this price range, the improvement over the stuff in the under $3k range are somewhat incremental, but if you want the best, this is it.  It is not a short scope though.

 

ELR:

For serious ELR you have a few options, mostly requiring add-ons of some sort.  When you need to dial 50 mrad with some sort of a high magnification optics, options are slim. 

You can use one of TacomHQ’s Tarac devices (Charlie being the more common: https://tacomhq.com/product/charlie-tarac/) to a conventional scope. 

You can use a dial slope base of some sort like the Era-tac design.

Or you can get one of the March Genesis scopes.  There are two: 4-40×52 and 6-60×56.  The big advantage of these is that regardless of how much of the available 100+ mrad of adjustment you have dialed, the image quality is always the same since the whole optical systems is moving.  

FML-3 reticle was, to a significant degree, designed with the Genesis in mind.  Also, this is one of the few  applications where 0.05mrad clicks are truly warranted.

 

Thermal Scopes, Clip-ons and Monoculars:

This market segment is really huge and I have been slowly working my way through it.  Keep that in mind as I make my recommendations.

Since the discontinuation of Steiner CQT, I have not seen any hybrid tactical thermals that are sufficiently mature to list here.  I’ll keep looking at them.

For a dedicated hunting rig, a more conventional dedicated thermal scope or clip-on is likely the way to go anyway.  Personally, I slightly prefer clip-ons especially on guns with a little more recoil movement (i.e. where I do not have to deal with shorter eye relief of most thermal scopes).  However, for a dedicated hunting rifle that does not have a ton of kick, a standalone thermal scope is better.

There are so many of these out that I have not had a chance to test them all.  I have looked at several higher end ones and, on balance, I would say that N-Vision Nox35 or Halo LR or Halo XRF is the best I have seen to date.  They are not cheap, but they are very good.  If I was forced to pick one dedicated thermal riflescope and monocular for general purpose use, it would be NOX35.

However, quite a few thermals from Steiner, Pulsar, ATN, iRay and others that I saw recently looked really good.  As I spend more time with them, my recommendations might change.

If you prefer something along the lines of a handheld that can also double as a clip-on, iRay RH25 should be at the top of your list.

If you are looking for a “bang for the buck” thermal scope, Athlon 50-640 for under $4k is excellent for well under $4k and is what I use.

iRay has several models in the Hybrid line that can be used as scopes or clip-ons.  I have heard a rumor that the best of their cores go into this product line.  They were extremely impressive.  There is a new Hybrid about to be introduced and once it is out, I’ll update this.

Also from iRay is the first viable optical zoom (switch power) Rico Pro.  As far as flexibility goes, it is the best currently available, but at a cost.  You get a 25mm and 50mm performance in one scope.

Do keep in mind that the whole thermal and night vision industry is full of good people and full of grifters.  Rix Optics, for example, looks like a shameless grift to me.  Tread carefully.

 

Night Vision:

Night vision market segment, quite possibly, is even more full of unscrupulous snake oil salesmen than the thermal riflescope world.  I use night vision monocular from Photonis (PD Pro 16M) and I am exceedingly happy with it.  If you want to go digital, SiOnyx Opsin is the only sorta viable game in town, but it is in a lower price category.

 

 Posted by at 11:51 pm

  7 Responses to “Riflescopes: Over $3000 / No Price Limitations”

  1. In the market for a x6 56mm hunting scope. Budget $2500. Capped turrets greatly appreciated. Purchasing for a 55 year old relative so ideally thicker crosshairs.
    Looking at the Z6(i) 2.5-15×56 P (BT) and Magnus 2.4-16×56.

    Any recommendations?

    • Both are very good. I think Magnus is a somewhat better scope than Z6, personally, but a lot of it is personal preference. Magnus has that remarkable Leica microcontrast that really agrees with my eyes.

      If you are worried about reticle visbility, illumination is your friend. Both of these have reticles that are very usable, but not very thick.

      I would need to double check, but I think Meopta Meostar R2 2.5-15×56 comes with 4C reticle that is a little thicker than 4a reticles in Swarovski and Leica. The R2 2.5-15×56 is finally available with side-focus which really makes it a contender. While not quite as nice as Magnus, it is definitely up there and the differences are small.

  2. Hi,

    I am a big fan of the Leica hunting scopes. I am currently looking for a long range precision scope and I was wondering what your take is on the Leica PRS 5-30×56? How is it compared to the rest of the 5×25/ 5×30 Tactical scopes?
    thank you for your opinion!