Just like the videos (here), this is going to be long and laborious. If you manage to make your way through this whole thing, pour yourself a nice bourbon. Personally, I am starting with the bourbon now, as I write this. I suspect, it will be a living document for a few days (so Scotch and Rum might be involved in some stages of this creative process).
I liked the DocterSight III quite a bit, so I made sure I visit Docter Optics at SHOT. They are now owned by a company called Noblex. I am not sure what that means for Docter, but I hope that means more funding for R&D and increased marketing reach. Docter is one of those German companies that I can never quite figure out like Kaps or Nickel. I know Docter has an arm that deals with the military side of things since I have run into theei US arm in the past. In the commercial world, Docter has a fairly complete line of hunting scope and a few offerings intended for some sort of competition use. I am not up to speed on the types of competitions that exist in Europe, but it sounds like a low range variable scope with a simple dot reticle and bright illumination is just the ticket for that. Aside from that, these all look like very solid scopes with the V6 line standing out to me as the more modern offerings that probably go head to head price-wise against Meopta’s MeoStar R2 line, the new Leupold VX-6HD and a few others. I honestly do not know where these sit quality wise, but they looked pretty good offhand, so I will make sure I look at one. I think the V6 2-12×50 will be an interesting design to mount on my 280Rem and test. It looks like it only comes with the #4 reticle which I happen to like, but the illumination system looks to be exceptionally well worked out. There are quite a few other magnified scopes in the Docter line-up (some come with intersting colors…), but I have to start somewhere and I think I will start with the V6.
I think these are Cerakoted…
On the red dot sight, they have a couple of products that got my interest. The new DocterSight G is the next evolution of their miniature reflex sight, but with a much larger lens, so I expect it to be notably quicker to pick up. It will also have manual intensity adjustment. I expect it to land on our shores toward the end of the year and I will test it then. Quicksight, is on the other end of the spectrum: it is a freakishly small reflex sight intended for shotguns.
Docter Optics QuickSight
It has a different construction which allows it to have a very low axis. The construction uses some sort of a prism to redirect the projected dot, so the LED can be set underneath the lens. That way the body you can see to the right of the lens is basically just a battery compartment. Vertically, the sight is extremely short and low profile. Looking it over, I did not see any means of adjusting POA, so I suspect that on shotguns, it clips to the top rib of the barrel and is considered to be more or less sighted in by design. I would like to test that theory.
In short, I see some things at Docter that are very traditional and some are pretty innovative.
They were right next to Docter and the revolver there looked very cool with interchangeable barrels, cylinders, etc. Once I learned that these start at around $6k, I walked away, but not before taking a couple of pictures.
The whole kit.
EOTech had some reasonably well publicised issues involving their holographic sights which tarnished both the company and product in many ways. Beyond this acknowledgement, I will pretty much ignore all of that sordid history and focus on the new products. New products in question are Vudu riflescopes. Finally, EOTech offers a line of proper magnified sights and they seem to be pretty decent magnified sights. What I am not entirely sure of, is whether they are sufficiently differentiated from everybody else on the market who uses LOW’s OEM designs. What I do not know is whether EOTech has made any modification to these LOW designs outside of their own reticles and external cosmetics. The EOTech person I talked to said there was some additional customization, but I do not have an easy way to verify that. There are four riflescopes in the Vudu product line: 1-6×24, 2.5-10×44, 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×56. There are some discrepancies between the brochures I picked up at SHOT and the information on the website, but best I can tell, 1-6×24 and 2.5-10×44 are available as FFP models only, while 3.5-18×50 and 8-32×50 are available in both FFP and SFP configuration.
EOTech Vudu 1-6×24
The two reticles available in the 1-6×24 both built on the original circle-dot theme of the HWS. There is a 65 MOA circle that makes for a very quick CQB aiming point. However at 6x, it disappears outside the FOV and whatever is in the center of the reticle can be used for more precise shots. There you have an option of either a mil-scale or a horseshoe with caliber specific holdovers for either 5.56 or 7.62.
The reticles in the other scopes are fairly simple designs that look a little bit like Gen 2 MilDot (or Sig’s milling reticle) and are available in two versions: mrad-based and MOA-based. They look like perfectly respectable reticles, but I am surprised EOTech is not offering something along the lines of a Christmas tree or grid style reticle. I could have sworn I saw mention of H59 somewhere in the past, but I can’t find it anywhere now. Honestly, I think that is an oversight. I am curious to see how these scopes will do, so I sent an e-mail to the gentleman I talked to at SHOT to see if they are willing to lend me one to play with. The model I am most interested in is the 2.5-10×44. It is a very underlooked configuration and there are very few of these in FFP form. My plan is to compare it to US Optics B-10 1.8-10×42.
EOTech Vudu riflescopes and Q’s “The Fix” rifles
Oddly enough an item that caused a lot of interest in the EOTech booth was the rifle that a couple of the scopes were mounted on. The rifle in question is called “The Fix” by Q LLC. Best I can tell, Q employs a bunch of people that used to work at Sig and AAC. I am not sure if either one of those companies has a financial interest in Q and do not particularly care. The rifles were interesting and, unlike most modern chassis-style rifles, quite light. I made a mental note to look them up and I did. And then I pre-ordered one. I like the idea of huting with the same gun I use for precision shooting and my Desert Tech is a bit too heavy for that. The Fix with a 16″ 308Win barrel weights right around 6lbs and takes a regualr LR-308 magazine that costs abotu $20. A Desert Tech Covert with a 16″ 308WIn barrel weighs around 10lbs and the magazines are $100 each. Desert Tech is probably a better precision platform. I like the bullpup configuration and its weight distribution, I like the quick change barrels. However, if I wanted to buy a Covert to add to me Gen 1 Desert Tech SRS, I’d be out around $5500. The Fix is $2800 and weights four pounds less. If it proves accurate enough for my needs, I’ll have to pull off some sort of a miracle of self-persuasion to keep my old SRS. Ultimately, that will become the question of how much I want to keep my 338LM.
There were two fairly new things at Nightforce booth this year: ATACR F1 7-35×56 and SR-1 Competition 4.5×24 scope. Both were announced a bit before SHOT, but that was the first time I got to see them. The little 4.5×24 looked mighty appealing to me (I like compact fixed power scopes, probably owing to how much time I have spent with various Mosin PU scopes) until I figured out that it costs right around $1900. I will freely admit that it looks like a very well optimized scope and I am sure it will do well with service rifle competitors, but I am having a hard time justifying that cost for a fixed power scope. Then again, I am not a service rifle competitor, so I might be missing something. Also, it is cheaper than the March 1-4.5×24 that is also new this year. On the other side of the spectrum the FFP 7-35×56 ATACR is intended for a very different audience and I suspect it will do very well with precision rifle shooters. It is pretty expensive at right around $3500, but that is more or less in line with the competition, although in all fairness, if you want more than 30x in a FFP scope there isn’t that much competion out there. S&B 5-45×56 is close to $5k. March 5-40×56 is probably the closest and it costs about the same. There were two 7-35x56s sitting in the Nightforce booth and one looked excellent while the other seemed a little iffy. I am guessing these were prototypes of some sort, but in the meantime I asked Nightforce to send me one of these for T&E. I really liked the 4-16×42 ATACR F1, so my expectations for the 7-35×56 are pretty high. I have not shot my 338LM in a little bit. This will be a good opportunity to do so.
The big recent news with Trijicon is their acquisition of IR Hunter. That was a shrewd move on their part. In my opinon these are the best engineered of the commercially available thermal sights. Now, with Trijicon’s marketing muscle behind them, we will likely see them get a bit more traction. The first obvious effect though is that the price has gone up… Now, in principle, Trijicon has something to offer regardless of the type of a weapon sight you are looking for. Between RMR and MRO the have some of the better red dot sights on the market. ACOGs and Compact ACOGs continue to do well (although some could models stand a refresh). Accupoint and Accupower cover conventional riflescopes fairly well, while TARS serves the precision market (not sure how much impact it has had).
On the non-thermal side of things there is a new version of the MRO called “patrol” or something along those lines, which is the original MRO with a different mount and some accessories. I really like the MRO and prefer it over the Aimpoint Micro, and the new mount is a solid improvement. THe top mounted control dial is much easier for me to use with either hand than most other arrangements. As far as small tubualr red dot sights go, I sorta settled on the MRO is being my overall favourite with Hi-Lux MM2 being the bang for the buck champ.
There is also a new Accupower, and it is an interesting design being a FFP 1-8×28.
A slightly larger than the more common 24mm objective might make a difference at 8x. Aside from that, it looks suspiciously similar to the 1-8×24 design that Light Optical Works from Japan makes for a bunch of other people. That is not a bad thing since this is a very respectable design, but I am not really sure what changes Trijicon has introduced other than a slight bump in objective diameter. The reticles are simple and fairly effective designs: broken circle and a ranging scale. There are two versions, one with mrad scale and another with MOA scale.
I have mixed feelings about broken circle designs. They work adequately well, but a solid circle or a solid horseshoe is, I think a better option. One other nice feature thing is a removable cat tail.
I asked Trijicon who I should talk to if I want to borrow one of these for T&E, and they gave me a business card for a gentleman named Eddie Stevenson who is the President of Driftwood Media. Apparently, that is Trijicon’s PR firm. I reached out to Eddie and got a fairly quick reply politely asking who I am. I told him what I do here and never heard back from him. He is either really busy, or he deemed that I am not worthy of testing the new Trijicon. I might still borrow one from one of my dealer/distributor friends, but that sorta depends on how busy I am in this coming year. In years past, I tried to get my hands on every new scope in some manner, but that was before I was married and with kids. Nowadays, I follow the path of least resistance: I figure out what I want to compare, reach out to the makers and spend whatever time I have on the actual testing process. If I have to spend time chasing after a manufacturer or, in this case, a PR firm, that’s basically a non-starter for me. Most of the time, that means they will not deal with writers whose opinion they can not easily influence (via advertising revenue or other means), and I do not feel like delving into figuring this out.
I had never heard of Juggernaut Tactical before, although they, like me, live behind enemy lines (in California) and have to comply with California insane laws.
JT’s CA-compliant Stock for AR-type rifles
They make a lot of miscellaneous parts for semiauto rifles including a bullpup chassis for M1A and a bunch of other things. What attracted my interest was there CA-compliant AR stock. It replaces the buffer tube and provides a pretty good way to make a “featureless” CA-compliant AR-15 or LR-308. Interestingly, the part of the buttstock that replaces the buffer tube is apparently three times thicker and it feels exceptionally sturdy. They also tell me, it gets rif of that annoying twang sound AR buffer tubes make. It comes with an extended takedown pin that serves as a thumb rest and still allows yo to use your original pistol grip (except you cant wrap you thumb around it). The length of pull was about right for me, and I think it will serve well on my LR-308 when it finally comes out.
I always stop by the Kel-tec booth to see what they have that is new. They are an innovative company that really needs more manufacturing capacity. What has a really got my interest lately with Kel-tec is their RDB-C rifle. It is a semi-automatic bullpup rifle that does not have a pistol grip. What it does have is a very respectable trigger. Since there is no pistol grip, it should be allowed in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia. It was surprisingly comfortable to hold and when equipped with a 20″ barrel, the overall length is just over 30″. If they actually make it, they will have the bulk of the California market to themselves. They have a 5.56 variant and they are working on a 6.5Grendel one. I will buy both when available.
I’ve always had a somewhat complicated relationship with US Optics. I like a lot about this company, but for a little bit I thought that the market has sorta passed them buy. They did not have a whole lot of new development (they did have some with low range variables) and while I am a big fan of the EREK knob, I do not like the low magnification tunneling and I did not like how much their scopes cost. This year, they’ve got the new B-series scopes which are newer iterations of the original 1.8-10x, 3.2x-17 and 5-25 designs called B-10, B-17 and B-25 respectively. They told me that there were some changes in the system that helped with the tunneling and the turret box was redesigned a bit to be more streamlined. The tunneling is still there, but looks less pronounced. The elevation turret is still excellent, and, very importantly, the pricing is a bit more reasonable, at least for the B-10 which lists somewhere around $1700. B-17 and B-25 list at $2300 and $3300 respectively. B-10 is the one that I would like to look at. It is reasonably compact and I really want to give the new turrets a workout with the new zero stop design, tool-less zero, etc. I glanced at their website and it looks like they are still making changes to it. At the moment they’ve got some rather questionable product categories there, but I will reserve judgement until it is all updated.
This is a British company I stumbled onto purely by accident. Apparently, they make Jpoint and have, in the past made a bunch of miniature reflex sights for others, like Trijicon. They are now marketing their sights under their own brand and best I can tell, they have been in use by British military for quite some time. There is a rumor floating around that their rifle sight (either SQS or SIS, I guess) proved to be more reliable than Aimpoint Micro in some British trials. If true, that is pretty impressive. Aimpoint Micro is a nice sight. Shield currently has for reflex sights in their product line. The original miniature reflex sight is called SMS (Shield Mini Sight) is what you get if you order a Jpoint and a few other sights. Best I can tell, this is the only one that Shield OEMs for others. The other models are RMS (Reflex Mini Sight), CQS (Close Quarter Sportsight) and SIS (Switchable Interface Sight).
The SIS feature list, interestingly, enough, looks like someone reached into my notes and made a carbine/backup sight based on them: it has three auto adjust modes and a manual adjust mode, it has four reticles you can switch between (8MOA dot, 4MOA dot, 1MOA dot with a 65MOA ring made out of 12 dots, and SIS 2MOA bullet drop). It also looks pretty indestructible and very compact. The SIS 2MOA bullet drop reticle is unique to the SIS, while the other four reticle are available in the other sights as well.
1MOA with 65MAO circle reticle
CQS looks pretty similar to the SIS, so I am assuming it is the earlier version. That is the sight that is in service with the British military. Like the SIS and RMS, it has an aluminum body (earlier SMS has a plastic body). You lose some of the options you have with the SIS and save about a hundred bucks. I think SIS runs ~$500 and CQS runs around $400, so they are up against some pretty serious competition, and I am very curious to see how they stack up.
For handguns, the sight that really got my attention is the RMS. It has the lowest base of any red dot I have seen and looks like it would be a perfect match for cowitnessing iron sights. With the proprietary plate, it cowitnesses with standard Glock sights, which is kinda remarkable. Basically, the body of the sight below the lens is concealed by the rear sight and does not interfere with the sight picture. That means that all the presentation drills I do with iron sights are not wasted. With RMS, I do not have to change a thing.
I sent the gentleman who owns Shield an e-mail to see if I can get my hands on one. We will see how it goes, but I am pretty pumped about these.
Another British company around the corner from Shield was Nite-Eyes. I was probably pre-dispositioned to not take them very seriously since I have a pet peeve about intentionally misspelling words. I am not sure what the reasoning is behind butchering the words “Night” and “Sight”. Maybe they were trying to write in ebonics or something. I was not born in this country and I worked very hard to learn this language. I sorta take it personally when people butcher it for no good reason.
This company makes a Near InfraRed camera that clamps onto your scope and blasts the image from the eyepiece onto a screen that hangs a few inches above the scope. The gizmo with the screen also contains a NIR illuminator that points in the same direction as the barrel. I see a few problems with this approach. First of all, if you are shooting a rifle with any sort of recoil, that camera will smack you in the face. Looking up at that screen while shooting is very unnatural and breaks your cheekweld, since looking at the screen without breaking your cheekweld did not work for me due to camera housing blocking the line of sight. Then again, they had it all set up with on a Rudolph scope, which kinda stands to reason… On a plus side, the had a standalone system that was essentially a NIR spotter: it integrates a NIR camera and illuminator into one module with a screen on the back. That seems like a perfectly viable idea except for some ergonomic issues. They claim that it is designed to spot things out to several hundred yards which requires some means of holding it in a stable manner. The way it is right now is not conducive to that. Still, that is a fairly clever gadget, while their system that attaches to a scope is… well, I think you worked out what I think about it.
Sightron did not have too many new things this time around. They now offer simple plex reticles in some of their high magnification scopes. There is a new small rimfire scope in the SIH line (3-9×32) which looks like a pretty nice little scope, but a simple crosshair reticle it comes with is not my cup of tea. I think there were a couple of new SII Blue Sky spotters as well. The two announcements that are of interest to me were in two far removed from each other market segments: miniature red dots sights and ultra high magnification target scopes.
ED Glass in Sightron’s next to of the line scope
I spent a lot of time with Sightron’s SV 10-50×60 target scope and really liked the innovative dual speed side focus. That scope was almost good enough to go head to head with the Marches of this world, but did have some annoying CA at high magnification. More importantly, Vortex’ new Golden Eagle cost a bit less and performs better at high mag. Now, Sightron has updated this scope with ED glass, which should help at high mag. It should be out in late spring some time and I will make sure I get my hands on it. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it looks like Sightron is finally getting into the miniature red dot sight business with their new SRS6 that features a 6MOA dot and a battery compartment accessible form the top. I’ll make sure I look at that one too.
I called the previous High End Tactical article “The Heavyweights” and figured I can stick with the martial arts analogy for this one. Since the scopes I am looking at are a bit smaller, I figured I can call it “The Middleweights”.
After some reflection, it occurred to me that the name is not really very appropriate. This will meander a little, but since I plan to continue looking at high end tactical scopes for the foreseeable future, I figured a little meandering is OK.
As a matter of background, I have been a martial artist most of my life. I am a pretty big guy, so I am certainly a heavyweight; however, the weight classes I enjoy watching the most, be it in boxing or MMA are the middleweights. The lightweights may be faster and more technical, but they are usually not big hitters. The heavyweights hit harder, but they seldom have the speed and as far as technical ability goes, the heavyweight fighters are usually the least skilled of all weight classes (there are exceptions, of course). The middle weight classes is where you have guys who are extremely technical while still being big enough to hit hard. To me the middleweights are the best overall fighters in the sport.
Well, the scopes I am looking at for this article are kinda like that: they are exceptionally good allround and can do almost everything in a pinch.
I was going with the whole middleweight theme until I actually spent some time with these scopes and realized that in terms of “punching power” (to continue with martial arts analogies) these scopes are dangerously close to the larger designs I called “The Heavyweights” in the previous article.
The Middleweights really should be scopes with objectives in the 42mm range and a magnification range of right around 2.5-10x or thereabouts. For example, Nightforce NXS 2.5-10×42 would be an example of such a scope. Of the scopes I have assembled, only Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 and Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42 could conceivably qualify as middleweights, but both of these sorta punch above their weight class.
Truthfully, if I manage to finally convince someone to make me a FFP 2.5-15×36 with David Tubb’s DTR reticle, weighing less than 20oz, that will be the perfect “Middleweight” the way I see it
With that in mind, I renamed this article into “The Cruiserweights”.
Still, with all that, there are really a few distinct parts to this article: Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42 and Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 go head to head. Sig Electro Optics Tango6 3-18×44 also goes head to head with them. I received the Sig later than others, so I have not had as much time with it and while I will occasionally mention it here, it will largely be a subject of another article. They have smaller objective lenses than the rest of the scopes here and both seem largely designed for the same application. Tangent Theta, Steiner M5Xi and Minox ZP5 are similarly priced and have the same basic configuration in terms of magnification range and objective size. These three offer a very “clean” comparison. That leaves Steiner T5Xi, Vortex Razor Gen II and Kahles K312i as different approaches to the same basic value problem:
Steiner T5Xi is significantly cheaper than every other scope in this test, so it is an entirely different value proposition. Here, the question is really “what do you give up by paying $1k less
Kahles K312i is also on the lower side of the spread in this group in terms of price, but it has a different take on user friendliness and on optical optimization. It does have the lowest top magnification in this group, so that is a part of the compromise
Finally, Vortex Razor Gen II is the company’s most ambitious design yet with Vortex flatly stating that they are willing to compete against anyone else out there
Here is a spec table for the scopes I have assembled here:
Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50
Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 3-18×50
30 (31.9 w/caps)
29.8 (31.5 with sunshade)
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
3.35 – 3.54
3.8 – 3.9
3.5 – 4.3
FOV, ft@1000 yards
26.9 – 6.9
36.8 – 6.3
36 – 7.3
37.8 – 6.25
Exit Pupil, mm
10.3 – 2.7
12 – 3.4
E: 26 mrad
W: 18 mrad
E: 29 mrad
W: 14.5 mrad
E: 34 mrad
W: 15 mrad
E: 35 mrad
W: 20 mrad
Adjustment per turn
12 mrad, double turn
10 mrad, double turn
12 mrad, double turn
10 mrad, triple turn
$2200 – $3200
Looking at the numbers tells an interesting story. As always, they do not tell the whole story (that is why we test scopes), but they are worth looking at.
Tangent Theta TT315M
Kahles K312i 3-12×50
Minox ZP5 3-15×50
32.5 (33.6 w/caps)
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
3.5 – 4.3
39.7 – 7.9
38.4 – 8.1
41 – 11.5
38.4 – 8.1
Exit Pupil, mm
10.4 – 3.33
11.5 – 3.5
9.7 – 4.2
11.5 – 3.5
E: 26 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 18 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 26 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 28 mrad
W: 12 mrad
Adjustment per turn
15 mrad, double turn
6 mrad, double turn
14 mrad, double turn
15 mrad, double turn
Leupold Mark 6 is a seriously compact scope. I put this spec table together prior to requesting the scopes from the makers. When I first looked at the dimensions of it I thought that they must be sacrificing some performance for that compactness (I was right, and for some applications it is a worthwhile compromise, but more on that later). As far as size and weight go, it is in the league of its own in this group. The next lightest is Tangent Theta TT315M, but it is two inches longer which is a big difference. Nightforce ATACR F1 is designed to compete against the Mark 6 and it is almost as short, but significantly heavier. Weight-wise it is right in the same ballpark as the 50mm designs. Interestingly, Steiner T5Xi with its 50mm objective weighs about the same as the Nightforce and is barely half an inch longer. Generally, both Steiners, Tangent Theta, and Minox are all of very similar weight and size. Kahles weighs about the same, but is the longest scope here. Vortex Razor HD Gen 2, while a touch shorter than the Kahles is in an entirely different class as far as weight goes. It is a full pound heavier than most scopes here. Gen II’s weight has been a subject of considerable discussion ever since the scope was released and my take on it is very simple: if you are mounting a scope on a heavy precision rifle that weighs fifteen pounds to start with the extra weight of the Gen II is irrelevant. However, if you are scoping an accurate gas gun that weigh 8lbs (like my Grendel chambered AR), it is a different ballgame.
Kahles has a seriously wider field of view (FOV) than everything else. That is sorta their thing and it stands out. However, on the flip side of the coin, K312i has the lowest magnification range here. I did not feel particularly affected by it, but for some conditions it can make a difference.
Also, if you look at FOV, you notice that Tangent Theta TT315M and Minox ZP5 3-15×50 have absolutely identical numbers (same for eye relief). Both are descendants of the original Premier Heritage 3-15×50 design and they bear certain similarities.
Steiner T5Xi is the least expensive scope here and by a significant margin. It also has the narrowest FOV. I suspect that the narrower FOV is a side effect of trying to stay on a budget.
The next differentiator in terms of specs is the amount of adjustment and adjustment per turn. Minox ZP5 and Steiner M5Xi offer the most adjustment per turn at 15 mrad, Kahles is not far behind with 14 mrad, T5Xi and Nightforce offer 12 mrad per turn, while Leupold and Vortex go with the somewhat common 10 mrad. Tangent Theta here sticks out by offering 6 mrad per turn in a double turn turret. All of these offer at least a double turn turret (triple for Vortex). What this means is that with Tangent Theta, once you have everything set-up, you get 12 mrad of available adjustment. If your shooting routinely requires more than that (mine does not), TT315M is not optimal for you. You can get away with it by combining the reticle with the turret, but for ELR, I would look elsewhere, namely at the Razor HD Gen II with the most available adjustment in this group by a significant margin. As far as Tangent Theta goes, they do offer a larger version of the 3-15×50 design called TT315P with more adjustment. However, it is more expensive and of less interest to me, so I stuck with the 30mm tubed TT315M.
All of these scopes offer a ZeroStop of some sort and reticle illumination. Most offer some sort of a locking turret arrangement, which I generally like. However, for me zero stop is more important than a locking turret on scopes of this type (on smaller scopes where I am more likely to just use the reticle, I really prefer the turrets to either have covers or to lock in place).
In my opinion, scopes in this price range should have reticle illumination. Note that I list two prices for the Leupold Mark 6. It costs $2200 non-illuminated and $3200 with illumination. From a consumer standpoint, paying an extra grand for reticle illumination is, frankly, preposterous. I suspect that the pricing is set up this way because of some government contract. If you do business with the US government, you can not offer the same product for sale to someone else for less than the government pays you. I suspect that the price of the illuminated Mark 6 is set by some contract with the government.
Why do I spend so much time on size and weight of different scopes? If you only shoot from the bench or prone, it may not make much difference for you. However, when I test scopes of this type, they spend a little time both on my heavy precision rifle (Desert Tech SRS) and on a couple of lighter rifles (an 8 lbs 6.5Grendel AR-15, a 10 pound LR-308 and occasionally some others). Once you get into this class, overall performance is not that different between most scopes, unless something gets pretty screwy. Barring some serious QC problems, there are very few scenarios where I could take a shot with one of these scopes that I can not take with the rest of them. It does not mean there are no differences. They are there and they are noticeable. However, with these scopes we are clearly in the “diminishing returns” part of the price range.
Here is a spec table for the sub 50mm objective scopes. I threw the Steiner T5Xi in there because it is comparatively inexpensive and rather compact for a 50mm design.
Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
Sig Electro-Optics 3-18×44
Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50
Bushnell Elite Long Range Hunter 4.5-18×44
30 (31.9 w/caps)
29.8 (31.5 with sunshade)
Main Tube Diameter
Eye Relief, in
3.35 – 3.54
3.8 – 3.9
3.5 – 4.3
26.9 – 6.9
36.8 – 6.3
35.3 – 5.9
10.62 @ 10x
36 – 7.3
23.5 – 6
10.63 @ 10x
Exit Pupil, mm
10.3 – 2.7
11.4 – 2.4
12 – 3.4
9.2 – 2.5
E: 26 mrad
W: 18 mrad
E: 29 mrad
W: 14.5 mrad
E: 34 mrad
W: 15 mrad
Adjustment per turn
12 mrad, double turn
10 mrad, double turn
8 mrad, double turn
12 mrad, double turn
FFP or SFP
$2200 – $3200
I am not going to go through the whole forensic analysis again, but note how much longer Sig and Bushnell are than the other three scope in the table. Price-wise, Sig is most directly competes with the Steiner T5Xi, with Bushnell providing some pressure from below. Here is a picture that shows the comparative size of the Sig, Leupold and Nightforce:
I will have a separate section on each scope as I go along, but first here are some notes on how I test things and how the scopes compare. Generally, I do not write up my methods in a whole lot of detail for a few reasons. Mostly, I am lazy and I think my time is better spent by writing about scopes. Second, that is more trouble than I am looking for. Bottom line is, that nothing that I do here is rocket science. I am a fairly experienced observer and I am very careful with how I set up my experiments. It is easy to do for anyone with basic understanding of experiment setup and rudimentary optics.
For optical evaluation, I simply look through the scopes side by side under a variety of lighting conditions and look for differences. I have to make sure my eyes get enough rest and that the conditions change slowly enough for the comparison to be relevant. I pay attention to spectral content of light sources since it can change considerably. I do the same comparison multiple times. I look at both test targets and real scenes (more real scenes than test targets). If I find something really screwy or unusual, I set the scope up behind a collimator, take some images and do some numerical analysis.
One thing worth noting is that the good folks at Kelbly’s sent me their fixture for mounting multiple scopes side by side on a tripod. They made the fixture when they were distributing March scopes and I inherited it. That also gave me an opportunity to play with Kelbly machined rings and I am very impressed with how superb they are especially considering their light weight. Generally, if you are looking for an accurate rifle, Kelbly’s is worth a look. I am considering having them build me one.
For tracking and other mechanical tests, I do a few things. Generally, there is no substitute to actually using these things the way they are supposed to be used. That is one of the reasons everything takes me so long. I go and use this stuff. Tracking is tested both on a rifle under recoil, and in a fixture. What I do with a fixture is a little different from the approach that has become so popular in the last couple of years, where people bolt the scope to a platform, point it to a grid target at a known range and see how the adjustments work. I have a precision optomechanical tilt stage from Newport bolted to a tripod sturdy enough for me to sit on (it is the type typically used for pretty serious astronomical telescopes). The stage is accurate to about a hundredth of a mrad, so it is more repeatable than typical 0.1 mrad turrets. All I have to do is point the scope at an easily discernible spot fairly far away (like a corner of a building) and by manipulating the tilt stage and the turrets, I can easily test how the adjustments work and the reticle feature size. I do not need to worry about seeing small features on a grid, about inclination of the line of sight or about distance to the target.
As I test things, I take fairly copious notes. It can be problematic in low light since to be able to write something down I need light which messes with my night vision. Sometimes I dictate, or use a red light. Naturally, if someone else is looking at the scopes, I take notes which is easier. Here are excerpt from my notes, just to show what they typically look like and what kinds of things I am looking for:
Low light test at around midnight looking out from the upper deck. I am the observer. Examine the church at 757 yards (LRF’ed) with a single bright light that can be moved within the FOV. Then look out toward the valley (city lights a few miles out).
Scopes tested are Nightforce, TT, Kahles, Leupold, M5Xi, Steiner M, all set on 10x.
Optically, under these conditions, Tangent Theta is the best in this group. Kahles trails it very slightly. TT has a touch more contrast. Both have very good flare control. Ultimately, wide FOV is a big advantage in low light and these two scopes have the widest FOV in this group. Neither is particularly susceptible to flare or ghost images.
The two Steiners: M5Xi and old M perform well, but have just a little more flare and stray light. They perform very similarly to each other with the the old M showing a little more detail all in all than the newer M5Xi. The two smaller objective scope, predictably were a touch worse since they had less light to work with. In terms of overall performance in low light, the two do very similar things at 10x. Leupld reticle is easily the most visible in low light in the group. Nightforce and TT really benefit from illumination. Kahles and M5Xi also need illumination; thick bars are OK but thin center practically disappears. Interestingly enough the G2B in the original Steiner Military does better in low light.
Day light test. Alex is the observer. Impressions on TT, Kahles and two Steiners (M5Xi and Military), with the Vortex added in later.
First impression is at 10x, than 12x. Primary observation target is a church at a lasered 757 yards. Sun was at 3 o’clock.
TT stands out as having tremendous depth of field. Everything (almost) is in focus, to the point where it can even be a little distracting. Vortex also has extremely deep depth of field.
Kahles picks up a lot of mirage for some reason.
Kahles has the better detail in the shadow than Vortex and marginally better or equal to TT
Kahles image has a flatter look to it.
Ultimately, there is less pop in the Kahles image, but more color detail in the dark portions of what you see.
Steiner M5Xi is easily the least favourite for Alex. He saw a lot of chromatic aberration that he could not dial out. He liked the old Steiner M 4-16×50
Ability to see detail: TT, Vortex = Kahles, Steiner
Contrast: Too close to call
Flare: All are well corrected except for Steiner M5Xi that picked up some artefacts.
Adjustment feel: TT and Kahles were the best in this group of 50mm scopes. M5Xi the worst. T5Xi and Vortex are close with T5Xi clicks a touch more distinct.
Another night time test. First at high mag just for the heck of it. I set all scopes to 15x.
Primary observations targets are the church and DeSoto. Looking at the billboard behind Kaiser is interesting.
In terms of eye position flexibility at high mag, Steiner M5Xi was clearly the better scope here although none are bad. Amazingly, both the Leupold and Nightforce can almost hang with the bigger scopes here. Vortex appears to have the brightest image in this group, but in terms of retained contrast Tangent Theta is a little bit better (and so is Kahles). T5Xi is very good and amazing considering the cost.
M5Xi seems to have a touch more contrast than T5Xi.
In terms of flare, M5Xi is showing a little more than others, but all are pretty good. Vortex has phenomenal flare control for such a short objective system scope. Tangent Theta and Vortex are similar in this regard. Nightforce, Leupold, and T5Xi are just a touch worse and M5Xi is a little worse still. I have seen a few M5Xi scopes and this one has more noticeable flare than others. I wonder if this is just sample variation.
Either way, off axis light sources do not have a strong effect on any of these scopes.
At 18x, Leupold and Vortex both offer a lot of detail, but Vortex edges ahead, probably due to its 50mm objective. The image is more contrasty. Mark 6 image at high mag is a little dull.
Nightforce at 16x in low light easily hangs with Leupold and beats it slightly (in low light). Leupold and T5Xi have slightly narrower FOV than most others and in low light at high mag there is a small perceptual difference in collected light.
At 10x, I can’t help but be impressed with the whole group. Once my eyes are properly dark adapted, the smaller objective scopes suffer a little bit, but even with a 42mm objective, 10x is a viable magnification setting for a low light shot when the scopes are this good.
As magnification drops, FOV opens up and Leupold starts picking up more significant flare from bright source near the edge of the FOV. M5Xi, oddly, feels a little less flare prone once the magnification goes down. Older Steiner Military 4-16×50 that I have also has this effect. Overall order of things is about the same. Vortex, for what it costs is stunning. TT is the best scope here in terms of glass, but it is also one of the more expensive ones.
Playing with the reticle illumination a few things jump out. T5Xi does this really well. a small center portion is lit: enough for some holdover, but clearly designed to draw your eye to the center. Vortex illuminates the whole grid and I do not like it too much. Nightforce illumination is too bright in really low light even at the lowest settings.
Going to 6x and lower settings is, to quote a movie I like, “Everything is illuminated”. All scopes look excellent. As FOV widens, it is easier to induce some internal stray light issues. Nightforce and Vortex are impressively well-baffled for those. I can induce some effects with Leupold as well, but they are not too well structured. With TT and both Steiners, by going way off-axis I can induce a semi-circular ghost near the edge of the FOV. It is a sufficiently minor effect to not matter, but these scopes are so good I am left to nitpick.
If I am typing notes up as I go along, I use complete sentences. Handwritten notes are naturally more terse.
Do keep in mind, that this is just a sample of the notes. These same observations have been repeated multiple times.
The way these scopes line-up is sorta interesting. Here is my aggregate assessment:
Optical quality in good light:
TT315M > Minox ZP5 > Razor Gen II ≥ ATACR F1 ≥ Kahles K312i ≥ T5Xi ≥ M5Xi ≥ Mark 6
Optical quality in low light:
Kahles K312i ≥ TT315M > Minox ZP5 > Razor Gen II ≥ ATACR F1 ≥ M5Xi ≥ T5Xi ≥ Mark 6
Depth of field:
TT315M = Minox ZP5 > Razor Gen II > ATACR F1 > M5Xi > Kahles K312i ≥ T5Xi > Mark 6
TT315M = Minox ZP5 = Razor Gen II = ATACR F1 = Kahles K312i ≥ T5Xi ≥ M5Xi ≥ Mark 6
Overall, Tangent Theta is exceptional and Minox is not far behind. Kahles edges them both out in low light, but by a small margin. Mark 6 has some compromises built-in in an effort to make it as small it is. Optically, it is a little behind other scopes here, but If you account for how compact it is, the fact that it hangs in this group at all is impressive. I was extremely surprised to find that overall Steiner T5Xi was able to hang with its much more expensive stablemate the M5Xi. In low light, M5Xi’s wider FOV helped, but in good light, I actually preferred the less expensive Steiner Tactical. I have seen several Steiner Military scopes ever since the first ones came out and they all have some sensitivity to flare as the magnification gets past 10x or so. I suspect that the sample I have is a little worse than average. Once again, keep the context in perspective: these are all excellent scopes and I am nitpicking.
As far as mechanical quality goes, all of these scopes held zero. I saw very little reticle hop with side focus adjustment (and that is not an easy measurement to make anyway). In terms of tracking, the scope I spent the most time on was the T5Xi since there was a lot of controversy around it and the one I have tracks well. I checked with Steiner and they made a design tweak that resolves the turret issue a number of early scopes had.
I did check all of the scopes I had on hand and the only one that gave me fits was the Mark 6. The version I have has the original M5B2 “squeeze to unlock” turret and I am not a fan of it.
Adjustments were off by a considerable margin and each elevation turret setting had slop to the tune of ±0.1mrad. I do not think any of this is a secret to Leupold and the newer M5C2 turret is much better. Generally, I think Leupold has some interesting things coming up in the Mark 6 line.
As far as feel goes, there was a lot of difference between different scopes here. Tangent Theta has easily the best click feel of any of these. That should not be any sort of a surprise since it is 6 mrad per turn allowing for rather wide click spacing in a compact turret.
Mark 6 click quality as I mentioned before did not impress me. Nightforce ATACR F1, on the other hand, is excellent. The turret is low and wide, which I like and looks very much like the M5C2 turret on Leupold scopes. The turret is locked at its zero position and a push of the button allows it to move. When you get back to zero, it automatically locks in place. The turret does not lock in any other position other than the zero setting. The turret feel of the ATACR F1 and Razor Gen II was somewhat similar in terms of ease of use, but the Razor Gen II can be locked in any position. There is a collar that pops up to unlock the turret and can be pushed down to lock it in place. I think the clicks on the Gen II are very well weighted and the adjustments were dead on reliable. It also offers three turns with a tactile indicator of which turn you are on. However, in order to make that lock ring work, there must be some minimal play in the turret and the clicks on the Vortex are nicely tactile, but not as audible as T5Xi for example. Of the high adjustment per turn designs, Kahles was the best one. I am not a huge fan of turrets that allow that much adjustment per turn since the clicks end up too close together. The best turret of this type I have ever seen was on the larger 34mm tube Tangent Theta and Kahles is up there as well. Minox is quite good, but not as good as Kahles.
Minox did something interesting with the markings on the turrets: they are freakishly white and visible. Apparently they use some sort of ultra high reflectivity paint, so they stand out really well. At a zero position, two triangle vertices are pointing toward each other. It is hard to miss:
Steiner M5Xi turret, while adjusting reliably, had much worse feel and it was very easy for me to accidentally skip a click or two. With visual verification, it worked fine and I did not have any tracking issues with it (I have tested a few M-series Steiners over the years and they all worked well, but the clicks were softer than I like).
Steiner T5Xi turret was more to my liking. The tactile feel was a touch more “ratchety” than on the Razor Gen II, but more audible. It was better than on the M5Xi all round. The clicks are both tactile and audible and very usable. They are a touch lighter than I like, but I had no problems getting used to them. The spacing also feels a bit wider than on the M5Xi. Another reason I was not too happy with the M5Xi turret is that it is quite tall which is not my favourite thing. That is a personal preference though.
Last comment I’ll make on this is that all other things being equal, how wide the clicks feel is a function of how many clicks per turn are there and of how large the diameter of the turret is. I tend to prefer turrets that are low and wide specifically for that reason. It is worth keeping in mind that the clicks on a 10 mrad per turn turret can feel less spaced out than those on a 15 mrad per turn
With that commentary out of the way, here are some thoughts on each scope.
Tangent Theta TT315M is the only design here with a 30mm maintube. That limits the overall adjustment range a little, but makes the scope a little lighter. The turrets are also quite compact and designed to have no more than 12 mrad of elevation available after a proper zero using a 20MOA canted base. 12 mrad is sufficient for most of the shooting I do, but it is definitely not enough for those who shoot really far out. For ELR, you need to step up to the more expensive 34mm models within the Tangent Theta line and I think that the higher magnification 5-25×56 TT525T is the better suited design. Those 12 mrad on TT315M come courtesy of a double turn knob. With 6 mrad per turn, the clicks are widely spaced despite a more compact turret than others here. The click feel is just spectacular and tracking is flawless. Another thing that is spectacular is the image quality. In terms of overall optical quality it is the best scope here. It is based on the original optical design of Premier Heritage 3-15×50 which I am well familiar with; however, it looks like something was improved. There were a couple of artefacts inherent to the erector system design in the Premier that I do not see in the Tangent Theta. Color is exceptional. There is a lot of texture to the image and small details really pop out at you. Depth of field is very deep which let me see the conditions at a good range of distances without messing with sidefocus. Also, if I wanted to get a quick shot off, I could leave the sidefocus set for around 100 yards and the depth of field is sufficient to see everything from pretty close to a few hundred yards without struggling for image focus. It does not mean there was no parallax error, but the image was sharp over a great depth. The only complaint I have is purely subjective. While I really like the Gen 2 XR reticle, I would have preferred the thick outer bars to be a little thicker. As it is, at lower magnification, the reticle is very hard to use in low light without illumination. Even in good light, it is not as fast to acquire at 3x as I would like. This is a personal idiosyncrasy I have: I prefer to be able to use the reticle at all magnifications even if the battery has died. Also, I really liked the fact that the windage turret on some scopes either has a cover or a turret lock (both Nightforce ATACR F1 and Mark 6, for example have simple covered turrets for windage). I seldom adjust for windage, so that is a turret I do not use for much of anything aside from zeroing in. I think for the TT315M a covered turret would save a little more money and fit into its overall concept better. Also, as I mentioned earlier, this is a comparatively light weight scope (second lightest in this group after the Mark 6), which extends its usefulness to a broader range of rifles than that of a heavier scope. Had I been in the market for a scope in this price range, the TT315M would be at the top of my list. This is not just me trying to say the politically correct thing to maintain a good relationship with the manufacturer. If I were planning to spend $3k on a riflescope for the shooting that I do, I would buy this scope. I hope that is a blunt enough way of saying how much I liked it.
Kahles K312i in many ways stood out from this group as well. This is an interesting scope because the basic specs do not look all that impressive outside of the really wide FOV. If I were new to the market and were simply shopping on specs, I would be extremely likely to overlook the K312i and that would be a mistake. While I think the Tangent Theta I talked about above is the best overall design here (for anything that needs no more than 12 mrad of adjustment), the Kahles has a lot to recommend itself as well. For starters, this the easiest scope to get behind in this group. Eye relief is exceptionally flexible, even slightly better than the Steiner M5Xi which is also very good in this regard. While the top end magnification is the lowest here at 12x, that is sufficient for most applications. Now, I am not a competitive shooter, so my take on it is perhaps a little different, but I usually shoot at around 12x or thereabouts since where I live the conditions often preclude easy use of higher mags. What I do use higher magnifications for is reading the conditions and there, 18x does have an advantage over 12x. Still, even at 12x I did not have a whole lot of problems reading the mirage with K312i compared to the rest of the scopes in this group. I suspect that the shallow depth of field is the culprit here. This more or less wraps up with the negatives. The positives, in my opinion, far outweigh the negatives. Firstly, the optical quality is very impressive. Kahles is optimized for low light and at night it is the best scope here. Tangent Theta and Minox are very close, but still not quite as good at night. Turrets tracked without any issues. I checked and checked them again both with recoil and without it. Tracking is spot on. In terms of feel, I think these are my second favourite turrets in this group behind the Tangent Theta. The center mounted parallax turret makes it easily the best scope for left-handed shooters or those who practice shooting off of both sides (something I do not do enough of). The parallax adjustment is pretty slow, so it was easy for me to dial in the exact correction I wanted. Illumination is well designed with low light in mind. Since it is not combined with the parallax turret, the illumination knob is a rather understated affair on the left hand side of the turret box. It gets fairly bright, but not quite bright enough for effective use in broad daylight. With that center mounted parallax and excellent eyepiece design, the Kahles is probably the most overall user-friendly design here.
It is not compact, but on a lighter side for this group. With the magnification range being what it is, I think this scope is at its best on compact 308 rifles, especially on gas guns. Unlike most scopes out there Kahles is available with the windage turret either on the left or on the right side of the scope. Now, as I mentioned earlier, I do not use the windage adjustment a whole lot, but I do use the illumination. Depending on the way I shoot the gun, it is easier to reach on the left or right side of the scope. For example, when using the scope of a rifle equipped with a shooting sling, my left arm is, quite literally, tied up. In that situation, I have to be able to reach all necessary controls with the right arm without shifting my shooting position a whole lot. The only scope that gave me a shot at doing that was the K312i with its center mounted parallax and right side illumination control. On the other hand, when using a bipod, especially with an accurate AR, I prefer to keep my shooting grip and use my left hand for all the scope manipulations. In that case, the K312i top mounted parallax is equally use to reach. The illumination is a little more awkward, since it is now on the opposite side of the scope, but still doable. The reticle preferences are in the eye of the beholder. Kahles uses a version of the MSR reticle with slight modification that is unique to Kahles. It is a popular reticle these days and for a good reason. It offers a lot of ranging capability and a precise aiming point. That having been said my personal preferences recently shifted toward doing elevation and wind holds with the reticle least out to a few hundred yards, so the MSR is not my favourite design. However, as I said, it is a personal preference more than anything. Besides, Kahles is available with the AMR reticle that is a cross between a “Christmas tree” design and a Horus. As I wrap up with Kahles, keep in mind, that is also significantly less expensive than Tangent Theta or Minox that I am going to talk about next.
Minox ZP5 is another extremely competitive design loosely based on the original Premier Heritage 3-15×50. The Premier was designed by Optronika in Germany which itself was, I believe, mostly founded by a group of Schmidt and Bender engineers who were not happy about management changes at S&B. I am not going to go through all the details of what happened to Premier and Optronika, but the relevant detail is the Minox and Optronika merged a couple of years ago and became one company. The tactical scopes introduced by Minox are the result of that merger. Optical quality is superb. I think Tangent Theta edges it out slightly, but it is close enough to where it might be sample variation. The turrets use conventional reset method without al the tool-less reset complications that larger Tangent Thetas have (and Premier had), However, they clearly gave a lot of thought to ergonomics and typical usage. As I mentioned earlier, the white paint on the turrets has incredible visibility in low light and the use of triangles for zero settings makes them very easy to see.
The overall feel of the turrets is very good, especially considering that they offer 15 mrad per turn. However, like with virtually all turrets of this type, the clicks are a bit closer together than I like. Still, if you want a lot of adjustment per turn, this is a nice design and after a little acclimatization, I was able to use the scope adjustments by touch. The magnification control is also a little different than on most scopes. In that regard, it is similar to Leupold Mark 6 and it is overall the design I like the most in this group: the magnification ring has a lot of length to it taking up a significant portion of the eyepiece. The whole eyepiece does not rotate, like it does on the Nightforce, but it is still very easy to grab. Eye relief flexibility is similar to that on the Tangent Theta (the optical system designs between these two are clearly related) and not quite as good as the Kahles. It is very serviceable though. The reticle is Minox’ MR5 and it looks somewhat similar to the MSR with an additional rangefinding feature in the lower left quadrant. I have a suspicion that this particular feature is a solution looking for a problem, but it works and is easy to adjust to. The line thicknesses are well weighted and I like the illumination. It is clearly designed with low light in mind as it gets very low for night time use.
Vortex Razor HD Gen II 3-18×50 is next on my list, and frankly, ranking its position in this group has been extremely difficult. First, I have to mention the “elephant in the room”: this scope is bloody heavy! With that out of the way, I have to grudgingly admit that I do not have anything else to complain about. Literally nothing. It is a superbly well rounded design. It covers the broadest magnification range here (along with the Mark 6). It can hang optically with everything out there. Tangent Theta and Minox are a bit better, but the difference is small. The scope is very easy to get behind. It also has the most full featured turrets here with both zero stop and turret lock. Resolution is good. Contrast is good. Turrets tracking is absolutely flawless. Adjustment range is sufficient for just about anything you might want to do. The reticle is my favourite design in this group. It gives 10 mrad of holdover with the Christmas tree that ends up reasonably unobtrusive when I do not need it.
The rest of the reticle is similarly well conceived with good visibility across a range of lighting conditions and well executed illumination. The original Razor HD was a very well engineered scope, but the Gen II leaps beyond it in every way possible. The only thing that stands in its way is weight. For many applications, weight does not matter. However, for those applications, why would you go with the 3-18×50 scope when there is a 4.5-27×56 Razor Gen II that is marginally bigger and marginally heavier, while offering a bit more magnification and a larger objective for more reach?
Aside from that objection, Vortex Razor HD Gen 2 scopes raise an interesting question. Since you can get one of these (or the larger 4.5-27×56) for $2300-$2500, and if you do not mind the weight, why would you be compelled to buy anything more expensive. It is a question that the makers like S&B, Tangent Theta, Hensoldt, etc have to answer. In a side-to-side test I did, the Tangent Theta is better (and in case of the TT315M, it is lighter, which is important for me). However, in principle, the model that competes directly against the Gen II is the TT315P with its 34mm tube and larger turrets. It is a full $1k more than the Vortex and if paying my own money, it is not clear to me whether the price difference is worth it. Another example is with the Minox ZP5 which I am very impressed with. However, it is a solid $600 more than the Razor and I prefer the reticle in the Razor. The optical performance is sufficiently close where for my purposes, I would go with the Razor Gen 2.
Steiner T5Xi 3-15×50 is the best bang for the buck in this group. It is significantly less expensive than all of the other scope here and it mostly hangs with them without any issues. As I mentioned earlier, it had some early hiccups with the turrets, but those appear to be resolved. The scope is compact for the configuration and optically pretty well sorted out. The FOV is a bit on the narrow side for this group, but aside from that, optical compromises in it are fairly minor. Still, I see more difference between this scope and the Tangent Theta, than I do between TT and Razor Gen II. However, the Tangent Theta is $1200 more, so it better be better! $1800 is still a lot of money, but honestly, I do not have all that much to nitpick on with this design. It is reasonably easy to get behind, though not as easy as Kahles and Steiner M. There is some flare, so it really benefits from leaving the sunshade on. However, the flare is not excessive. Contrast is not as pronounced as on the TT and Minox, but respectable, Resolution is pretty good. The SCR reticle, however, leaves me cold. It is a very busy reticle with very poor low light visibility if your battery is out. KIt gives you a lot of feature for ranging, but not for holds. Illumination is pretty decent, but make sure you have a spare battery.
Side focus knob, showed a little hysteresis, but nothing major. The turrets tracked well and I spent a LOT of time with them. I like the second turn indicators (little windows in the turret) and I like the overall configuration of the turrets: they are low and wide with an easy to set zerostop.
Ultimately, if you are comfortable with the SCR reticle, this scope is well worth looking at. For the money, you’d be hard pressed to do better.
Steiner M5Xi 3-15×50, on the other hand, was a bit of a disappointment. Mind you, if it cost less, I would be a lot less picky. However, it is sorta telling that I liked the somewhat less expensive T5Xi more. There was nothing wrong with how the M5Xi functioned: turrets tracked, the scope stayed zeroed and the eyepiece is exceptionally easy to get behind. That was the one thing where the M5Xi really did well: flexibility of eye relief. It was the only scope in this group to compete with the Kahles in that regard. However, the turret feel was mushy and optics were not good enough for the price. At $3k, this is one of the more expensive scopes here along with the Minox and TT, and both of those run circles around the M5Xi in terms of image quality. I hope I received a bad sample, but this one is underwhelming. At its core, the problem was significant susceptibility to flare that was difficult for me to block even with a sunshade. This effect was most pronounced at higher magnifications. The scope I had came with the MSR reticle. Steiner’s version of it has a slightly bolder center aiming crosshair, which I sorta liked. I generally like reticles on the bolder side. As I have mentioned elsewhere, I prefer reticles with wind holds at distance, but that is a personal preference. Steiner’s MSR is well executed and I did not have any issues with it.
Reticle illumination on this Steiner is excellent. It is very well calibrated with no bleed and quite bright when I need it. I spent some time beating it up and it is largely a competent design that is brought down a bit by the flare and mushy turrets. Its most direct competitor here is the Minox ZP5 and I prefer the Minox overall. Then again, as I mentioned above, The Vortex Razor Gen II creates a bit of a value problem for both Minox and Steiner.
Now, we get to the two smaller scopes in this group.
Nightforce ATACR F1 4-16×42 really peaked my interest because the earlier NXS F1 was a very competent design with somewhat disappointing optics. When Nightforce came out with the ATACR, the optics looked much improved, but it was a SFP design which is not my cup of tea in this range applications. I was all set to look at the larger 5-25×56 ATACR F1, then I saw the 4-16×42. I think that this is a great configuration for compact precision rifles, so I rounded it up to compare to the Leupold Mark 6 (that is really how this whole article idea started). The TACR F1 is a fairly compact scope, although the Leupold Mark 6 is still smaller and a fair bit lighter.
In the picture above, from left to right: Nightforce, Tangent Theta, Kahles, Leupold Mark 6, Minox M5Xi and original Steiner Military 4-16×50.
Earlier Nightforce scopes had good resolution, but were a little dull on the contrast side. The ATACR F1 suffers from none of that. The glass quality is excellent and it did not suffer from any particularly unusual optical artefacts. Overall optical quality was similar to the Vortex Razor Gen II, which is very good company to keep. It is priced similarly also, so the basic question I phrased earlier pertaining to why you would want to pay an extra grand or two for a similar S&B or something along those lines applies here well. The ATACR F1 with its Mil-R reticle is a very well rounded design and the Mil-R matches it well. It is a comparatively simple looking reticle with a lot of ranging features, which I like. I got used to it fairly quickly and liked it enough to drag it with me on a pig hunt. Although the reticle does get fairly thin at low magnification, it worked perfectly well for my purposes and was quick enough to pick up. The turret design is easily one of my favourites. It seems similar to Leupold’s M5C2 turret and I am not sure who came up with it first. There is a lock button, which keeps the turret locked at zero position. The turret is low and wide, so it does not catch on stuff. Most importantly, it tracked perfectly. Windage turret is a simple covered design, which I like a lot. I never touch that after sighting in. Eye relief was reasonably flexible and even with some unorthodox shooting positions, I had no issues whatsoever. The only real weakness of this scope is the design of the reticle illumination. It is a pushbutton arrangement integrated into the parallax adjustment knob, similar to the original March design. It has four illumination settings and the lowest one was a bit too bright for low light and the highest one is not bright enough for bright light (same complaint as I had with March until they introduced the low power unit). To change magnification, you rotate the whole eyepiece, which is common to most Nightforce designs. I am not a fan of this arrangement since it rotated the lens covers. Nightforce uses Tenebraex covers which can rotate independently to rectify that. However, I prefer the more conventional arrangement with a non-rotating eyepiece myself. Overall, I liked the Nightforce
Lastly, we get to the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44. I really wanted to like this scope and despite its shortcomings, I do. It is the smallest and lightest scope in this group by a significant margin, which really appeals to me. It was an excellent match for my 6.5 Grendel. It was the only scope in this group that worked well on the Grendel in term of weight and balance. It was not as good as the competition optically, which I sorta expected because of the size, but it was still quite good. Good enough for me to be comfortable with the tradeoff. What I was not comfortable with was the stinky turret. M5B2 turret has well explored issues and as far as I am concerned, this scope is to be used in a set and forget mode: use the reticle for holdover. Another problem is the illumination, or more specifically lack thereof. To get this scope with illumination, you have to pay an extra thousand dollars, which I find absolutely preposterous. The reticle in the scope I looked at was the CMR-W. When I talked to the Leupold product manager in charge of this scope, I mentioned that they sent me a scope with CMR-W reticle. His reaction was: “#$%&, I wish they has asked me first!” Despite that, I was mostly alright with that reticle. There are a couple of things about it that are odd, like the mil-scale for range finding is sufficiently far to the left of the FOV, where at top magnification (where you would be ranging), it is outside of the FOV. The reticle itself is pretty coarse which I find rather practical (I am probably alone on that) and very visible under a range of conditions.
Besides, to work well in a FFP scope without illumination the reticle does have to be fairly thick. One thing I really like is the horseshoe arrangement in the center with the floating dot. At high magnification, the small dot is your primary aiming point. At low magnification, the horseshoe looks like a large dot and becomes an aiming point.
With all of that, fundamentally, despite its flaws, the Mark 6 is a very interesting design. The only scope I can think of that is similarly compact with a broad magnification range is March 3-24×42. However, the Leupold is easier to get behind, which is important for the applications I have in mind. It also has a significantly less shallow depth of field which makes it easier to use. As is, the March is a more complete design owing to the turrets. However, after some consideration, I think I would like to revisit the Mark 6, but configure it differently.
First of all, I want to make it clear that while the Mark 6 is not as good optically as the best scopes in this line-up, it is still very good and there are very few shots that I can take with Tangent Theta and can not take with the Mark 6. On top of that, I like the compactness of it. With that in mind, I think I will experiment with a different version of the Mark 6, the one with David Tubbs’ DTR reticle. I ran into Favid a few years ago at SHOT Show and we have been discussing his DTR reticle every once in a while. I think it is a great idea and offers an excellent nearly self-contained system. He has his reticle in the illuminated Mark 6:
While not cheap, I think this offers an incredible capability in a compact package, and I fully intend to get my hands on one and properly work it out.
After all that wordiness, I figured I should make a short summary of the recommendations that I can come up with based on spending a pretty significant amount of time with these scopes.
If you’ve got $3k to spend and 12mrad of available turret movement is enough, get a Tangent Theta. It is the best allround scope in this group and it is light enough to double as a hunting scope if need be. It was equally at home on my Desert Tech SRS 6.5x47L and on a LR-308 clone. I even tried it on my Tikka M695 hunting rifle and it worked well there too (that was kinda fun when I ended up next to some yuppy with a fancy custom rifle at the range; he was not happy about a bone stock hunting rifle outshooting his pride and joy. When he looked through the Tangent Theta, his jaw dropped).
If your budget stops around $2400 and weight is not a major concern, you can’t go wrong with the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 3-18×50. It is an extremely complete package.
For a large frame gas gun, or if you shoot lefty with any regularity, Kahles K312i is definitely worth a look. That center mounted parallax makes it uniquely ambidextrous.
If you really want a high end scope, but a mere thought of spending upwards of $2k on one gives you an ulcer, you should give Steiner T5Xi a chance. I liked this scope a lot and while the reticle is not ideal for my purposes, that is a personal preference.
Lastly, if you want the most compact package while still having high magnification available for you, see if you can work within the limitations of the Mark 6 3-18×44. For a precision small frame semi-auto, it may be worth the trouble.
A little while back, a gentleman named Matt contacted me with questions regarding the Razor HD LH. While my full review is not out yet, I have spent a fair amount of time with these scopes and like them a lot. They are about to land on my list of recommendations and from what I’ve seen so far, I can’t recommend them enough. They are simply excellent.
Needless to say, I suggested that Matt give it a shot, which he did. He bought a Razor HD LH 3-15×42 and proceeded to put it side by side with a few other scopes he and his friend have.
We communicate via Facebook messenger and here is a copy of that conversation. The only real edits I made when I copied it here pertain to formatting. I also took out my side of the conversation, since it was mostly me asking for permission to post Matt’s resutls here and agreeing that I like the VX-R as well. The rest is an exact copy with occasional punctuation corrections:
Here is my very unscientific take on the new Razor HD LH. I have owned 5 Vortex scopes over the last 5 or 6 years, and have collectively owned them a total of maybe 2 months, including 2 PSTs. Although build quality and mechanics have always seemed above average for the price, I have never been able to get past how poor the glass is, or the overly sensitive eye boxes. I just always felt it was lacking, and was left slightly disappointed. I am, afterall, a hunter more than a precision shooter, and glass has always been top on my list when shopping. The Razor HD LS, I can safely say, has a permanent home on one of my hunting rigs. I compared a Conquest 3-9×40, Conquest HD5 3-15×42, Leupold VXR 4-12×40, Sightron SII Big Sky 6×42 and 3-9×42, and a Monarch 4-16×42. I set all scopes to 100 yards, and placed them on a table. I can look down to the end of my driveway, 100 yards away. I have a resolution chart and various things to look at, like the detail in a cedar fence and the various hardware attached to it. To make it short and sweet, Ill sum it up in 3 categories: resolution, low light brightness, and ease of use. Resolution: The Vortex and Big Sky were very close, both having superb clarity edge to edge in the entire magnification range. The Leupy is a step behind, but not by much surprisingly. The HD5 has better edge to edge resolution then the VXR, but center resolution on the VXR was a noticeable amount better in the center of the image, with about 20% of the edges being slightly blurry. The good old Conquest 3-9 falls behind that, and then the Monarch a good bit back. So…
2. Big Sky
Low-light brightness: The VXR, HD5, and Razor appeared ever so slightly brighter than the Big Sky, followed by the Conquest, and Monarch. The Top 3 were so close, I would have to spend more time with them to tell a difference. I will say that the G4 BDC reticle and the Leupy LR Firedot (not illuminated) are both much easier to pick up than the BDC 600 in the HD5, with the slight edge going to the Razor.
Ease of use:
1. Razor – by a long shot. THIS is where it shines. Even at 15X, the Razor is VERY forgiving and very easy to get behind. This is a complete 180* spin from my previous experiences with other Vortex. There is very little “tunneling”, even down to 3X. Eye relief is great, and the eye box is very forgiving (especially for a 15X). It’s the type of optic you look for in a field rifle, something you can throw up in a split second and get a shot off.
2. VXR and Big Sky, tie. Both I feel are excellent, and are usually my personal favorites in this category.
4. Conquest – Borderline Horrible compared to the others above.
5. Monarch – Horrible!!!
I don’t, however, like the textured satin finish on the Razor. It looks and feels cheap. The clicks aren’t as positive as I expected, and there was a hint of flare at dusk that some of the others didn’t exhibit, but nothing to be upset about. The ease of use of the Razor combined with the awesome glass, EXCELLENT G4 BDC reticle, and tracking ability make is a darn near ideal mountain rifle optic. It weighed 16.6 OZ on my scale, which is the icing on the cake. I also want to point out that the performance of the VXR was surprising, and 2 OZ lighter with an illuminated reticle, 30mm tube, and a couple hundred bucks cheaper. It would be my 2nd overall choice here. The Razor will go with me to Colorado this year on an Ultralight .280AI, and I am stoked.
The HD5 is a Buddy’s scope, and is mounted on a rifle, and therefore not pictured.
Also, the VX3i 4.5-14×50 and Super Slam 4-20×50 are both unimpressive. I like the VXR a good but better than both, and the Razor leads and bounds more. Very disappointed with the VX3i. Maybe I got a lemon, it’s only 2 weeks old.
I might add that the 2nd category should be “Low-light Performance”. Brightness wasn’t the only factor, contrast and color rendition obviously matter aswell. I should have worded that differently. I was in a hurry.
I just finished comparing the LH to the VXR. Both scopes set to 12X. Took a couple pics with a cell phone, tell me what you think. It appears to me the LH has a touch better resolution, and is doing a better job at suppressing chromatic aberrations. Overall, I am both surprised at the resolution of the VXR and LH, and to 95% of guys… I don’t think they could tell a difference. If I could 100% trust the tracking in the VXR with an animals life, it would be very hard in my opinion to opt for the heavier and more expensive Razor. Distance to fence is 80 yards, 150 to the mailboxes. Couldn’t get a great pic out of the Razor at the mailboxes.
The VXR also appears brighter, but that may be some of the CA that my eye is perceiving as brighter.
I must have a really good example of the VXR. It, and this may sound weird, absolutely looks better than my VX3s and VX3i in terms of resolution. I don’t own a VX6 to compare to. The Razor definitely has an edge in resolution and edge to edge performance. I am young, and have only been an optics nut for a short time, but I realized I had a problem when I had a safe full of scopes and no rifles to put them on. I bought a pair of Zen-ray Prime HD binos, and I have been hooked on glassing since. The tracking of the Razor and generous eye box is what I am so stoked about. My McMillan Edge should be here any day for my 280 build, and ill run it through its paces. Thanks for your help.
This time around I only went to SHOT for one day, since I had to go to China on Wednesday. I’ve spent time writing up my SHOT impressions in a variety of odd places, but doing it on a plane to China… well, that’s a first.
Since I knew I only had one day, I did not even try to cover everything and planned to visit only a small number of people. In practice, I only got through about two thirds of my list.
Here are some random impressions in no particular order.
I took some pictures, and they are here (unsorted).
Tangent Theta does not have anything new this year except that they are in proper production on the three models they’ve been working on. I have tested the TT315M thoroughly and had a little hands on time with the other two as well. Overall, as far as I am concerned, these are the best scopes in the world. They have stunning glass, perfect tracking and the best turret feel I have ever experienced. I do not know what kind of pixie dust they add in there, but it works. In this coming year, I might try to pit them against a couple of new S&Bs that looked interesting.
Tangent Theta’s Andy Webber
Speaking of S&Bs, it looks like the Polar T96 scopes will finally make it into the US. They also have three new tactical scopes they called “Ultra Bright”, presumably because they are quoted to have the same light transmission as the aforementioned Polar scopes. I do not know how they measure light transmission, so I will avoid the temptation to pick it the perceived importance of that silly claim apart. That having been said, the new scopes looked pretty nice. There were three models there and the two that stood out to me were the 3-12×54 and 4-16×56. Best I can tell, these are probably T96 Polar scopes with turrets, but the traditional S&B flaws I usually see are not there. There is no tunneling at low magnification. Field of view is pretty wide. Overall, image quality looked very nice, although it is hard to say for sure inside a convention center. The turrets were not production level yet, but they looked similar in principle to the low and wide turrets that sit on S&B’s Ultra Short scopes. I like their form factor, but I think they are cramming too much adjustment into a single turn. The clicks are a bit too close together. It will be interesting to see how they are executed on the new scopes. I think that the 3-12×54 will be an interesting design to look at. I always liked the original 3-12×50 and 4-16×42, so this is a magnification range I like.
I had a brief chat with the folks at Docter, and the recently redesigned reflex sight they have peaked my interest. It is still an autoadjusting sight, but now they have three different brightness modes to choose from. I think I’ll have my Glock slide machined for a reflex sight and check it out. Aside from that, I did not see too much new stuff at Docter. The seem like very competent designs that need better marketing and distribution.
Minox has been growing in the US market and this time around they introduced a new line of ZX5 hunting scopes that will run in the $500-$600 range. They are assembled in Germany and looked like nice designs. The 1-5×24 is very intersting. Also, there is a new large 20-60x spotter with a 88mm objective. I liked the spotter and plan to test it shortly. Minox has impressed me with several things they have been doing in the last couple of year. They are definitely a company to watch.
Leica has a new Trinovid HD binocular (built in their factory in Portugal) that will retail for around $1k. I spent a little time staring through it and liked it. I think it will compete well against Conquest HD and others. Similarly there is a “budget” version of the LRF binocular called Geovid-R. Budget Leica is still $1800 or so. Rather importantly, the ER5 riflescopes that were delayed due to a legal dispute are now going into production and they will be gradually becoming available starting next month for some models. I intend to test the 1.5-8×32 first and go from there.
Leupold has a new VX-3i riflescope line, which seems to be replacing the VX-3. “i” stands for improved rather than illuminated. They simplified some machining and a few other things and got the cost down. VX-3i scopes should cost about $50-$100 less than VX-3. Interestingly, with VX-3i scopes being a little cheaper, there is now a hole in Leupold’s line-up between VX-3i and VX-6. I am not sure that fact is not lost on Leupold marketing people. I have recently tested a Mark 6 3-18×44, so I used the opportunity to chat with the product manager for the Mark 6. None of my observations were news to him and I have a gut feeling that there are good things coming to Leupold tactical scopes. I’ll have a more detailed overview of the Mark 6 in the article itself.
Meopta did not have anything very new. Their MeoPro line really expanded during 2015 with what looks like the designs that were previously marketed as Zeiss Conquest. Since I liked the original Conquest and I am not too impressed with Conquest HD5, that is good news. MeoPro line is a very strong contender in the $500 – $1000 range. I also saw a prototype of their tactical scope which looked quite good (better than the one from last year). I think that is going in the right direction.
Zeiss is the booth where I go every year and spend a little while wandering around looking at things and being soundly ignored. If I ask a question, I usually get a monosyllabilic answer. Either I pissed someone off at Zeiss, or they simply do not give a rat’s behind. Either way, it looks like the V8 scopes are finally making it here and they seem like really nice designs. With a 34mm tube, the 1-8x scope has a 30mm objective which makes it stand out a bit from competing designs that all have 24mm objectives. The V8 scopes are freakishly expensive, but look very good.
Hensoldt did not seem to have anything new, but I will check with Jason from EuroOptics when he gets back to the office to be sure. I think Hensoldt is due for something new, so perhaps I missed it.
Nightforce has a couple of new designs: a nice fixed power competition scope and a FFP 4-14×50 SHV scope. I did not look at the competition scope too much since I am not sure what I can do to get an impression of a 45x scope handheld in a convention center. The turrets felt good and the scope felt quite solid, but I expect no less from Nightforce. The 4-14×50 FFP scope is sort of a spiritual successor to the defunct NXS F1, except reasonably priced. Three reticles are available: IHR, MOAR and MilR. The first two were with capped turrets, while the MilR has an exposed elevation turret. I liked it a fair bit. The front focal SHV is reasonably compact and is a good general purpose configuration for precision shooting.
Vortex probably had the most introductions at the show of all the companies I visited. The biggest news is their new Razor AMG 6-24×50. In a nutshell, it is an American-made high end precision scope that addressed every complaint I had with the Razor Gen 2. It is light for the configuration, has a superbly comfortable eyepiece, wide field of view and pretty nice turrets. The prof is in the pudding, of course, so we will see how it performs, but it looks and feels impressive. The turrets are the same L-Tec design as Gen 2 Razors, but a little smaller. The tube is 30mm, but despite that it still has quite a bit of an adjustment range. Off hand, the only scope out there with a wider FOV is likely Kahles.
Speaking of Kahles, they see to have gotten the ball rolling nicely in the US and the K624i is now available with a left side windage turret. The rest of the designs seem more or less the same, which is not a bad thing. I think they will have a couple of new things around mid year or so, but we’ll see.
Going back to Vortex, they surprised me a little with the Razor HD LH hunting scopes. I sorta knew they were coming since every time I would complain about a lack of high end light weight hunting scopes they would tell me to sit tight and wait. The new scopes are 1.5-8×32, 2-10×42 and 3-15×42(with side focus) and all are quite light. They all have 1″ tubes, reasonable adjustment range, and superbly designed eyepieces. They are very easy to get behind and look exceptionally well built. What surprised me the most was the G4 BDC reticle. Last year at SHOT, I was whining that noone has a hunting reticle I like, and they called me on it. So, I went ahead and sketched up a design for them that I liked. This time around, as I get into the Vortex booth, Paul hands a scope over to me and goes: “does the reticle look familiar?” Apparently, my whining did not fall on deaf ears, and they took my basic concept with some modification and put it into the Razor HD LH scopes. I am naturally stoked about it, but we’ll see how it does in the market place. Aside from that, there is a new red dot sight called Sparc AR. It looks like a version of the Chinese red dot made in the image on Aimpoint Micro that also has similar battery life. I am familiar with the design and it works well. Vortex’ version of it has a AA battery built into the mount, so it can not be mounted very low, but it is perfect for ARs. Lastly, the 15-60×52 Golden Eagle competition scope is new and looks like a well made design. Turrets have a nice feel and the optics look nice. The scope is lighter than I thought it would be, but still feels very solid.
Hi-Lux/Leatherwood is re-branding itself as Hi-Lux precision Optics and is coming out with a line of FFP PentaLux scopes: 4-20×50, 6-30×56 and 1-8×24 were there in prototype form. They need some work, but look promising. They also have 6-25×56 SFP scope that is especially beefed up for use on 50BMG and other large rifles. I chatted with the folks there for a bit and I like the way the approach stuff. They are comfortable showing prototypes, but they are not going to bring them to market until they are ready.
Athlon Optics is a new company that has a very complete product line, with the high end stuff made in Japan and the rest in China. They look pretty well polished and I plan to look at them carefully. They seem to have veyr good connections with a variety of OEMs. They have a spectacularly tiny spotter that I definitely want to see, nice binoculars and a good assortment of FFP scopes in different price levels.
Another new company is Styrka. They also market Chinese and Japanese made scopes and seem to have a financial connection with Celestron. Their higher end Japanese scopes are not ready yet, but the mid-range Chinese-made scopes looked pretty good and had nice close focus, which is a little unusual.
Sightron has a few new scopes in the S-Tac line. Just like the rest of the S-Tac scopes these are assembled in the Phillipines out of Japanese-made components (there import tax advantages to that). The new designs are 2-10×32, 3-16×42 and 4-20×50 if memory serves me right. There is also a new HHR2 reticle. All of these scopes have a little tab on the magnification ring that can be either folded down for compactness, or flipped up for speed. Their reticle designs are maturing, but still need work. Overall, nice scopes. I like tweener scopes so the 2-10×32 peaked my interest. Also the SV 10-50×60 34mm tube scope that I like a lot received an illuminated reticle.
I stopped by Trijicon to see what is new. I am somewhat familiar with most of their products, so it was interesting to see what they were going to do next. Fairly new sight I have not seen is the MRO, which is basically designed as an Aimpoint Micro killer, which it might very well end up being. It is about the same size but with a more open view owing to a larger objective lens. Aside from costing a couple of hundred dollars less, it is also a bit more user friendly. The illumination control turret is on top of the sight, which makes it very easy to adjust with either hand. Generally, I think I should spend a little time and do an overview of Trijicon’s non-magnified sights. The new MRO looks promising and what I remember of the RMR is pretty good to.
Sig Sauer Electro-optics looks like it is ready for prime time. The show samples for the most part looked like products, not projects. There are a few items there that I find interesting. I expect to take a look at the Tango6 3-18×44 scope fairly soon. The design looked well executed and I think it holds a lot of promise. Bravo4 prism 4×32 scope has a very wide FOV, so I will make sure I look at it as soon as a one is available. Also, their solar powered red dot looks worthwhile. I am moderately certain it is OEM’ed for them by the same Chinese company that makes good quality Aimpoint Micro style RDSs for several people, but I do not think I have seen this version.
Looking around the Sig Electro-Optics exhibit I saw several very competent people who used to be with Leupold. That bodes well for Sig EO. Another interesting product was a Sig P-series handgun with integrated Sig miniature reflex sight. It was very well integrated with the slide. The mide RDS is called Romeo1 and it has a couple of interesting features: motion activated illumination is a good option for defensive handgun and with the battery accessible from the top, there is no need to re-zero after a battery replacement.
Burris and Steiner booths sorta share space, or more specifically, split one large exhibit in two. There are not too many new things with Steiner, but it sounds like the got to the bottom of the tracking issues that popped up in some of the T-series scopes and have a new turret design. The T 3-15×50 scope I have been looking at has performed quite well, but since they have a new turret, I asked them to send me one of the new ones for a quick look. The scope I have been testing is good enough to be on my “Recommended” list, but since they are changing turret design, I want to look at it before I officially start recommending the T series. Aside from that there isn’t too much new stuff from Steiner. I think they have been putting a lot of resources on making sure the T-series scopes are a success. I did glance at their binoculars for a moment and noticed that they have a 8×30 LRF binocular which ranges out to 6000 yards or so. I think it is LEO only, but perhaps I can borrow it from them. It should be interesting to play with that:
Steiner’s 8×30 LRF binos
Burris seems to be enjoying some success with their XTR II scopes (I have been playng with one and I am quite impressed) and the next XTR II model looks quite interesting. It is not quite production ready, but the prototype I saw looked reasonably polished, so it can not be far off. The scope is a 1-8×24 variable built on a 34mm tube. I expect both FFP and SFP version to be available. I have been lookign for an scope for my 458 SOCOM and this might be it (although Athlon’s Cronus is also a contender):
Burris XTR II 1-8×24
Aside from this I did not see too many new things from Burris at this show. They have some additional configuration options with switchable turrets I think , but I was time limited, so I did not get into it too much.
Bushnell is introducing some optics intended for AKs, rather than ARs. The biggest difference is likely the mounting options, but I think there are also AK specific reticles in the works. Tactica hunter It generally looks like there is all sorts of rebranding and re-packaging happening at Bushnell. That is hardly surprising since Bushnell, Weaver, Millett, Tasco and Simmons are all owned by ATK. All these multiple product lines have tremendous amount of overlap and should be re-organized a little, in my opinion.
I have written about Trijicon ACOG, Leupold HAMR and Elcan Spectre OS before and I think I made abundantly clear that I really like this class of scopes.
All three are good scopes, but out of those I clearly liked the Elcan the most with the HAMR being not too far behind. The Trijicon, while a very nice design on its own, did not do too well side-by-side with the newer offerings. I suspect that I managed to irritate a legion of ACOG fans out there, but, to be honest, I still manage to sleep quite well at night despite that. Needless to say though, this is pretty exalted company, so even the worst scope in this group is still quite good.
I ended up keeping the Elcan and it has become my “go to” sight on a compact AR I built. I added a set of 45 degree offset iron sights to that rifle and called it a day.
Since then, I fired a lot of rounds through that rifle and the Elcan held up admirably. Naturally, when I got a chance to take a look at Hensoldt ZOi 4×30 (courtesy of EuroOptic), I jumped onto the opportunity.
I considered evaluating a Browe scope, but a little research on the track record of Browe scopes out there suggested that testing one of those may not be worth my while (some electronic functions are innovative, but optomechanically, it is a basic clone of of the ACOG).
To re-iterate what I said, elsewhere, I have some fairly specific notions on the relationship between how much riflescopes these days cost and what I should be getting for that money.
When speaking of AR scopes, I loosely divide the price ranges as follows:
– For $500 and under, I am willing to make all sorts of compromises: it just has to hold zero, have a usable reticle and decent image.
– For $1200 and under, the scope has to be exceptionally well executed. It may not have every functionality or feature I want, but every feature it does have must be executed well
– If it costs north of $2k, I want it to be perfect for what I do.
Here is a spec table for the two scopes I looked at (in bold) along with a couple of others:
Trijicon ACOG 4×32
Elcan Specter OS 4×32
Leupold HAMR 4×24
Hensoldt ZO 4x30i
14 with mount
Eye Relief, in
36.8 (7 deg)
31.5 (6 deg)
31.5 (6 deg)
42 (8 deg)
36.8 (7 deg)
Fiber-optic and tritium
Dual mode battery power
Single mode battery power
Battery with autocompensation
Looking at the specs, a couple of things immediately stand out:
-Hensoldt is a little heavier
-Hensoldt has a freakishly wide FOV
-Hensoldt is more expensive
Size wise, these two scopes are very similar to each other. The mechanical design of the two is quite different, with the Elcan’s adjustment being external and Hensoldt adjustments internal in a manner that is a bit more conventional.
In practical terms, I only used the adjustment in both scopes for sighting in and after that used the reticle for holdover. In principle, while sighting in, the adjustments performed as advertised, but I did not bother to mess with tracking a whole lot. I think these scopes were intended to operate in a “set-and-forget” operating mode.
Both come with integrated mounts. The Elcan has ARMS QD levers. I intend to upgrade mine to the adjustable versions of the same levers, but the ones on there now have worked well for me, so no complaints there. The Hensoldt has what I presume is their own version of a QD Picatiny mount integrated into the ZOi. It seems to work fine and comes back to zero well enough where I can not really see the difference on a gun that shoots around 1MOA. One thing I liked about the Hensoldt mount is that the lever is locked in its closed position. It is a very secure arrangement.
Both Elcan and Hensoldt can be paired with a small red dot sight. Elcan can be equipped with a small base that fits the Docter sight and several other compatible miniature red dots. I have the base on the sight in the picture below and used it with the rather excellent Meopta Meosight III for quite some time. The Hensoldt has a short picatinny rail on top of the sight, so it is a little more flexible in terms of what you can hook up to it. I did not try to run it with a secondary sight, since it did not seem like it would be vastly different in terms of usability to the Elcan. The separation between the optical axis of the magnified sight and the sighting axis of the red dot is a touch larger on the Hensoldt, but in exchange you get the flexibility of the picatinny mount.
Windage and elevation adjustments of both of these scopes are not intended for frequent dialing, so distance shooting is accomplished using the reticle for range estimation and holdover. While the reticles of these sights are intended to satisfy the same basic requirements, they go about it in a very different way. Both offer holdover points calibrated out to 600+ yards, but I did not stretch them beyond 600. The holdovers are intended for SS109 ammo, which I generally do not use, but with a little experimentation and tinkering with a ballistic calculator I had no problem using both reticles with 77gr Mk262 style ammo. Still, I much prefer mrad marks to cartridge specific holdovers.
Both reticles offer choke-style rangefinders that work reasonably well on man size targets.
That is where the similarities end. The reticle in the Hensodlt has a large horseshoe that offer excellent visibility in low light. Inside the horseshoe is a crosshair, with a couple of windage/lead hold marks and distance holdover points. The hashmarks for different distances are of different widths, which can be used for rudimentary range estimation as well.
The reticle in the Elcan is a variation on the duplex theme with a small floating crosshair in the center, thicker outer bars, and small holdover hashes for varying distances.
Without illumination, the Hensoldt reticle is faster to deploy, while the Elcan has an edge in precision shooting. Both work, but I found the windage/lead hold marks of the Hensoldt a nice touch.
Both sights offer illumination, but they are very different in execution. Hensoldt illumination is only intended to be used in low light situations and it lights up the whole reticle. In bright light the illumination is not visible, so the reticle is made to be fairly bold for operating speed.
Elcan illumination is considerably more sophisticated, with two operating modes: bright illumination of the center crosshair only for day use and dim illumination of the whole reticle for low light use.
Both are workable solutions, but reticle illumination scheme is a weakness for the Hensoldt. If your battery has died on you, on the other hand, the Hensoldt reticle shines.
Another noteworthy difference is the location of the illumination controls. On the Spectre OS, the illumination is controlled by a rather large knob on the left side of the sight. That jives well with us on AR-type rifles, which are intended to be manipulated with the right hand on the grip and the left hand operating the controls. However, when shooting with a support sling, my left hand is fixed in place, so the controls have to be accessed with the right hand. The illumination control knob on the Elcan is large enough to make it possible, but not ideal.
The illumination control on the Hensoldt (see picture below) is in the same basic location as it is on many full size red dot sight from Aimpoint: on the bottom right of the sight. It is easy to reach with the right hand, but rather inconvenient for the left hand. I think Elcan offers a more flexible arrangement, but both are workable. Ideally, I would have liked for the illumination control to be mounted a little higher on the scope in the 10 or 2 o’clock position. That would be much better for ambidextrous use.
Optically, both scopes are excellent with somewhat different strengths.
In terms of ability to see detail, Elcan is a little better. It was also better than Trijicon ACOG and Leupold HAMR, so Hensoldt is in pretty good company there. I did not have the Trijicon and Leupold on hand, but if my recollection is accurate, in terms of detail and contrast rendition, Hensoldt fits between these two and the Elcan.
The two sights also present different color balances, with Elcan being fairly neutral and Hensoldt a little warm.
Where Hensoldt really shines is in the FOV. While it does not look like a big difference on paper, in actual use, it is noticeable. The ZOi also has a spectacular eyepiece design. Eye relief is exceptionally flexible and the image distortion as you move toward the edge of the exit pupil is notable less significant than on the Spectre OS or any other prism sight in my experience. The ZOi is exceptionally easy to get behind.
I spent a fair amount of time using both sights for observation and did not observe any real difference in eye fatigue. Still, in terms of simply staring through it, Hensoldt is more user friendly.
Finally, which is better? That really comes down to which reticle you prefer. For my purposes (and keep in mind that I lean toward precision shooting simply based on temperament), the Elcan is a better choice, owing to slightly better optics and superior reticle illumination system. However, truth be told, I could easily switch to the Hensoldt without any detriment to hitting the target.
Here is one last photo before I wrap things up. One of the days I was at the range a friend of mine joined it with his newly acquired WInchester levergun, which, in some ways, is the original assault rifle. It is interesting to see a compact AR next to an old 30-30 levergun. Aside from the optics and the pistol grip, they are almost the same size.
Lastly, since I sorta set out to overview the entirety of available 4x prism scopes out there, it does not hurt to summarize what I found so far with the four models I looked at:
-Trijicon ACOG 4×32
-Leupold HAMR 4×24
-Elcan Spectre OS 4×32
-Hensoldt ZOi 4×30
First of all, obviously, if push comes to shove I can use any one of these with reasonable effectiveness. They are all good designs.
Still, in my opinion, not all are created equal and all have their strengths and weaknesses.
Since I am quite certain I have already irritated a whole legion of ACOG fans out there, I might as well re-iterate that I did not care much for the Trijicon’s ultra short and finicky eye relief.
Besides that, optically the other three scopes are better. Now, the relative importance of that is different for everyone, but it matters to me.
All four prism sights I have looked at to date did not give me any mechanical or reliability issues and best I can tell all have a good track record of standing up to abuse.
What differentiates them from each other are ease of use, optical quality, FOV and reticles. All four sights have their niches and here is where I think they fit:
-If you must have an illuminated reticle without batteries, get the ACOG. If you are looking at the battery powered version of the ACOG, you should check out the competition because I think it is better.
-If you are getting a bit older and find yourself seeing a fuzzy picture or getting serious eye fatigue quickly with the other sights here, the Leupold HAMR is the only game in town. It has an adjustable eyepiece as is common on conventional scopes making it more adaptable to your eyes.
-If you are looking for something with the highest resolution and you lean a little more toward the precision side of things, get the Elcan (that is my case)
-If you worry about the battery dying on you, but still want something more user friendly than the ACOG, get the Hensoldt. Its reticle works without illumination quite well, FOV is crazy wide and this is the easiest scope to get behind out of the four. You have to be comfortable with reticle illumination that is not day bright, however.
Next step for me is to get my hands on the new Sig Bravo4 prism sight and compare it to the Elcan. The Sig scope promises an even wider FOV than the Hensoldt and a few interesting features, so I would like to take a look at it.
I know there are a few lower priced options out there, but so far they have not really grabbed my interest.
I have had a reasonable familiarity with the ACOG for quite a while now, but I never really bothered to do an article on one since the bulk of my interest in AR scopes was with the low range variables. Indeed, in terms of flexibility and capability, good quality variables are the way to go. However, they are almost invariably heavier than I like and, often, bulkier than I like. There are some exceptions, of course, with Leupold VX-R 1.25-4×20 coming to mind, but if I choose to go with a variable, I want true 1x on the bottom.
A switch power scope like Elcan Specter DR 1x/4x or IOR 1x/4x Pitbull are interesting options, but they are also a bit heavy weighing well in excess of 20 ounces.
Elcan Specter DR, as much as I like it, is also expensive costing north of $2k. Now mind you, if I could afford it, I would already own one, but I wanted to look at something with a street price of $1000 to $1200 or thereabouts.
I have some fairly specific notions on the relationship between how much riflescopes these days cost and what I should be getting for that money.
When speaking of AR scopes, I loosely divide the price ranges as follows:
– For $500 and under, I am willing to make all sorts of compromises: it just has to hold zero, have a usable reticle and decent image.
– For $1200 and under, the scope has to be exceptionally well executed. It may not have every functionality or feature I want, but every feature it does have must be executed well
– If it costs north of $2k, I want it to be perfect for what I do.
WIth low range variable scopes, I have looked at almost everything out there and I continue to explore new options as they pop-up. However, there are alternatives that I have not explored as much.
Hence, I started looking at what else is available. For ultimate speed and compactness, I can always use a small red dot sight a la the highly regarded Aimpoint Micro. That got me curious and I started looking at a variety of miniature red dot sights. However, I am a precision guy at heart, so even on lightweight ARs I like to have some amount of magnification available to me. The next logical step was to consider the ACOG and similar compact fixed power scopes. An added benefit is that most of them can be paired with a miniature red dot. However, for this article I looked at the following three sights with no additional accessories:
– Trijicon ACOG 4×32 has been around the longest, so any comparison of such designs must start with it
– Elcan Specter OS is a more recent design, but Elcan has been making scopes of this type for a long time and they go head to head with Trijicon all the time
– Leupold HAMR is comparatively new to the game, but I liked it at SHOT, so I figured it is worth a look.
Here is a spec table for the three scopes I looked at (in bold) along with a couple of others:
Trijicon ACOG 4×32
Elcan Specter OS 4×32
Leupold HAMR 4×24
Hensoldt ZO 4x30i
9.9 (w/o mount)
or 14 with mount
14.65 with mount
Weighed: 18.55 with mount
Weighed: 13.5 with mount
Eye Relief, in
36.8 (7 deg)
31.5 (6 deg)
31.5 (6 deg)
42 (8 deg)
36.8 (7 deg)
Fiber-optic and tritium
Dual mode battery power
Single mode battery power
Battery with autocompensation
I should have probably looked at the Hensoldt ZO 4×30 as well, but I did not have one easily available to me, so I might do so at a later date. It is a bit more expensive than I would like for this category and a bit on the heavy side, but the one I saw at SHOT was a nice piece. I suspect I will not be able to resist the temptation and test it at some point. I like the very wide FOV on that sight. The first version had a freakishly short eye relief, but Hensoldt changed the design and the eyerelief is very usable now.
Browe scopes are very similar to the Trijicon, except they have a rather innovative reticle illumination technology which taps a little bit of the light entering the scopes and autoscales based on that reading. I figured that if I like the ACOG 4×32, I can alway revisit Browe later.
All three of the scopes I looked at are 4x in magnification. The reason I picked 4x is that the HAMR is only available as a 4×24. Both Trijicon and Elcan offer other magnifications. In a way, that stacks the deck a little against Elcan, since its Atos OS 3x sights are lighter and I am looking for a light scope. SImilarly, it is not strictly speaking fair to Trijicon because I have seen enough ACOGs to know that the 4×32 has the tightest eye relief. Under different circumstances, I would probably pick a 3×30 Trijicon, but the 4×32 is lighter.
With all that said, I decided that there are too many options here to cover in one article, so I took the three 4x scopes and stuck with them.
Before, I get too much further, I will say that one of my takeaways is that I should also consider lower magnification scopes of this type for a future article. There are some interesting designs out there that I want to look at. In the future, perhaps I will pit the 3×30 ACOG against Elcan’s 3x ATOS sight.
Here is a brief summary of what I found with these three scopes:
– Optically, Elcan walks all over the competition, and it is easily the best one of the three for precision shooting, while being very capable for everything else. I really like the illumination scheme on the Elcan.
– HAMR offers additional mounting flexibility, which came very useful for me, and is the lightest of the three once you actually weigh the scopes.
– I do not particularly care for the reticle in any of these scopes, but Elcan gave me the most precision, while HAMR was the fastest. With the ACOG, I should have gotten the circle dot reticle which is similar to the HAMR. The holdovers are not especially useful with any of them once you get past 400 yards.
– If you are getting older and your eyes are not what they used to be, the HAMR is the only one of the three with adjustable eyepiece focus.
– The short eyerelief of the ACOG made it much harder to get behind quickly and comfortably than the other two.
I am searching for a scope for a particular rifle and for this application the Leupold HAMR was the best fit of the three scopes I tested, while the ACOG did not work well on it at all. Elcan was somewhere in between. If I were to switch to a collapsible stock on that AR, Elcan will become the perfect fit.
Now onto the details….
The rifle I want a scope like this for is very light. It has a pencil thin melonited barrel from Voodoo Innovations, carbon fiber handguard and ACE ultra light stock. It is my SHTF rifle, so I insist on having back-up iron sights (BUIS) on it. I picked the smallest available (that I could find) rear folding sight from Knights Armament, but I still have to mount the scope a little further forward than I could have without the BUIS. Couple that with a fixed length stock and what you get is issues with eye relief.
I did bring another lower assembly with me that is nearly identical, except for having a collapsible Vltor Imod stock. That rendered ACOG almost usable and made Elcan a perfect fit. A lot of the tests I did with a collapsible stock lower to be fair to all three scopes.
Both the ACOG and the HAMR come with a flat top adaptor, but the ACOG adaptor can only be mounted one way, while the HAMR has a couple of position options that came really useful.
Here is a picture that shows the approximate location of the oculars of the three scopes:
Since the ACOG’s eyerelief is a more than an inch shorter than that of Elcan and Leupold, it was difficult to use with a fixed length stock and BUIS in place.
The SpecterOS comes with a QD mount (ARMS levers) and external windage and elevation adjustments. I am not a huge fan of ARMS levers, but best I can tell this latest iteration is pretty sturdy and I had no issues with them. Perhaps more importantly, this Elcan returned to zero sufficiently for me to not see a perceptible difference in POI.
Both the HAMR and the ACOG have the regular thumbscrews with two crossbolts on their mounts. The crossbolts on the ACOG adaptor are round, while the HAMR crossbolts have flattened sections. The HAMR also came back to zero well, if I was somewhat paying attention to even and consistent screw tightening. The ACOG shifted zero a fair bit more, but there are a many better aftermarket options for an ACOG mount, if you need a quality QD mount.
In terms of mechanical qualities, all three scopes look like they can take a beating. I suppose the fiber optic collector of the ACOG is a weak spot, but there are LED powered version of the ACOG, so you do not have to get the fiberoptic one if you do not like it. I did not have any durability issues with any of these and they held zero without any concerns on my part.
The ACOG and the HAMR have internal windage and elevation adjustments, while the SpectreOS adjustments are external. I confess to not checking tracking on these beyond the sight in process. These scopes are not designed to be adjusted all the time. While I was sighting them in, the POI movement agreed with the amounts I was dialing.
If push comes to shove, the Elcan’s elevation adjustment allows for dialing in shots and I played with it a little. It worked surprisingly well. The large knurled adjustment ring under the scope body needs to be unlocked using a coin or a knife blade or a screw driver (or a sturdy thumbnail), after which it can be easily rotated. Of these three scopes, the Elcan is easily the best for precision shooting so experimented with it in that capacity with surprisingly good results. There is a lot to be said, I suppose, about nicely optimized designs even with moderate magnifications. I could easily use this sight to the extend of the range of the 5.56×45 round and would not have any issues using it on a precise semi-auto 7.62×51 either.
Ultimately, all three of these scopes are designed to be used primarily with holdover reticles. From left to right: Elcan, Trijicon, Leupold
To my considerable surprise, the ACOG’s chevron reticle did not agree well with me at all. I’ve used chevrons in a variety of scopes over the years and liked them. However, that was usually in different designs. In the ACOG, I suspect that the Horseshoe Dot reticle would work much better for me. Please note that in terms of visibility, all three reticles were quite visible (much more so than in these small pictures).
The Leupold reticle is designed with NATO standard M855 ammo in mind. Ditto for the Elcan, although neither mentions barrel length. The ACOG reticle (except for the TA01NSN model) is calibrated with a 55gr 5.56 ammo out of a 20” barrel.
The only problem is that I use 77gr and 75gr ammo (similar to Mk 262) virtually exclusively.
Here is how the external ballistics compare (typically) in terms of drop and wind, both in milliradians (courtesy of JBM Ballistics website):
The drop is pretty close, especially if you stay within 400 yards, but the windage is not.
I like to have some sort of a horizontal stadia to give me a rough idea of how level I am with respect to the surrounding. Except I like the hashes on the horizontal line to be spaced according to something with known periodicity, like milliradians. From that point on, I can easily figure out what wind holds that corresponds to for any cartridge. Unfortunately, Leupold insisted in putting in windage hold marks that corresponds to 5mph, 10mph and so on wind exactly perpendicular to your line of sight. That can be made useful after a lot of practice and wasted ammo (which is a polite way of expressing what I think of this reticle feature while sticking to words fit for printing).
Optically, the comparison turned out to be far simpler than I had expected: the SpectreOS walked all over the other two scopes with HAMR edging out the ACOG for second place. In all fairness, all three scopes performed better than I expected, but the ACOG is the oldest design here and it shows.
I stretched the legs of the rifle the scopes were sitting on and as far as precision shooting goes, the Elcan has a clear advantage over the other two scopes here. I could resolve better with it, contrast was better and the scope was easier to get behind.
In terms of actual usability, the difference was also considerable with the Elcan and Leuold being very easy to get behind and the Trijicon turning out to be a bit tricky. I suppose it is the combination of short eye relief and small ocular lens.
The illumination scheme was also different between these three sights, but before I get into that, it is worth mentioning that Tijicon offer the ACOG with a variety of different illumination schemes: tritium only, tritium with fiber optics, LED only, etc. The version I looked at is tritium with fiber optics and I specifically chose this one to see how I like it. I know full well that I like the ACOG with a battery powered LED, but the fiber optics was interesting to look at.
As it were, I found all three illumination schemes to be quite serviceable. The Leupold and Elcan have battery powered illumination with the Leupold offering a conventional turret on the right side of the scope body, It has sufficient dynamic range for both low light and bright light shooting and proved to be pretty fast in use. The illumination is easily day visible even on bright California days.
The Elcan illumination is also controlled by a rotary turret except it sits on the left side of the scope body, which works quite well on ARs. When I needed to make a quick adjustment on the HAMR I had to reach over the scope with my left hand, since ARs are designed to be run with the left hand. When I tried shooting with a support sling, it was easier to run the HAMR, since I was doing it with the right hand. The left arm was locked in place by the sling.
I wonder why the reticle brightness adjustment is not on top of the scope body. A low and wide turret there would be convenient for operation with either hand. It might interfere with top-mounted mini red dot sights though.
The SpectreOS illumination differs from the HAMR in another significant way: it has two modes depending on which direction you rotate the turret two away from the OFF position. The bright light mode illuminated the tiny center crosshair and is visible during the day. The low light mode illuminated the whole reticle pattern, but faintly enough to keep you eyes night adjusted. Both modes have several brightness levels. I found the setup to be well conceived and well executed. In low light mode, I could executed precision shots in very dim lighting and the generally excellent optical quality of the Elcan definitely helped as well.
The ACOG illumination has some strengths and some weaknesses. The biggest strength is also the biggest weakness: it is always on. It is bright and easy to use. It is fast to pick up as well. However, if the lighting conditions where you are differ significantly from where you are aiming, it does not always work all that well. Aiming at a bright spot from inside a dark room was not optimal, while aiming from a brightly lit area into shadows had other set of problems with a very overpowering reticle. Still, those are fairkly extreme conditions and if you do not like this illumination scheme, Trijicon offers a variety of illumination options.
Lastly, here are some conclusions and closing thoughts:
Between these three scopes, I thought that ACOG was the hardest to use. The HAMR and the SpectreOS have a clear edge there.
For a lightweight carbine, the HAMR is probably the best option owing to its light weight and overall good performance.
If you can live with four extra ounces, the Elcan SpectreOS is a more refined and versatile scope with the best optics of the bunch.
If you need ocular adjustment in your scope, the Leupold is the only game in town.
Having played with these 4x scopes, I found that while I can use them with good speed, adding a miniature red dot is a good idea. All three have provisions for mounting a red dot and I will likely do so in the near future.
Ultimately, this scope should have been included in the most recent of my High End Tactical articles (here), where I was looking at exactly this type of a scope: 56mm objective lens, high magnification and top notch quality. However, it simply wasn’t available then and even the scope that I got my hands on for this article is a pretty early pre-production sample. Before I got into some serious mechanical testing I checked with Vortex to see how it is different from future production scopes and they said that some of the optical systems are not as well fixed in place as they will be (they rushed to make these for SHOT) once the production line is fully up and running. Now, something like that can potentially affect both optical and mechanical performance, and I was a little surprised that they still risked sending it to me. I suppose that speaks to their confidence in the basic design. In deference to the pre-production status of this scope I did not test it with 338 Lapua, but aside from that I did not baby it in any way shape or form. It went through the same basic turret tracking tests as I usually do, so the scope has a bit over 100 rounds of 6.5×47 behind it. If something was screwy with the mechanics I would find it. Moreover, I took a pretty nasty spill together with the scope and while there is some rather noticeable cosmetic damage on the outside, the functionality is unchanged.
When production copies are available, I might get my hands on one and test it with 338 Lapua as well, but frankly, based on my previous experience with the Razor HD product line, durability is unlikely to be an issue.
As is my custom, here is the short version:
This scope is absolutely a competitor for the alpha makers and, while not cheap, is a comparative bargain at $2500 street price. Vortex will most likely do well with this design. It is heavier than I would like and in terms of pure image quality it is not quite as good as the best (Premier 5-25×56), but it is close enough to compete. I have looked at quite a few high end tactical scopes over the last few years and optically this scope would not be at the bottom of the pack. The overall design is superb and this scope is remarkably easy to get behind. I did not have Hensoldt and Kahles on hand to compare, but it is up there. All of the other scopes in this category I have seen to date are not quite as forgiving of eye position.
Now, onto the long version.
I compared the Gen 2 Razor to Premier 5-25×56 and March 5-40×56 that I happen to still have here. Both are excellent scopes and their strengths are somewhat different from each other. The Premier is the best optimized 56mm scope I have seen to date; it is “the generalist” design, so to speak. It has been supercede by Tangent Theta scopes which will use the same optical system with re-designed mechanicals, but for my purposes it is a good scope to compare to. The March, on the other hand, is “the specialist” that is virtually in a class of its own in terms of centerfield resolution and magnification range, albeit at the expense of the FOV and edge performance. Comparing the new Razor to these two gave me a very good idea how it stacks up.
Before I get into the specifics, perhaps a few words about the whole Razor product line are a good idea. The original Razor HD scopes were the 1-4×24 and 5-20×50 front focal plane designs. Both were pretty successful, best I can tell, with the higher magnification version of the scope easily garnering the most publicity of the two. There were some early stumbling blocks that Vortex quickly resolved, and the resulting scopes were very good. I have seen a few different versions of them, and I was always impressed with what these scopes offered for the money. The lower magnification 1-4×24 scope was eventually superseded by the first of the Gen 2 scopes the 1-6×24. This one is a second focal plane design aimed squarely at 3-gun shooters: it features ultra wide field of view and a very bright illuminated reticle. Fast forward a bit over a year and, in 2014, Vortex introduced two more Gen 2 Razor HD scopes: 3-18×50 and 4.5-27×50, both with front focal plane reticles. The original 5-20×50 Razor HD will remain in production for the time being as well.
Here is the spec table that I used for the last High End Tactical article with the Razor’s specifications added in.
VortexRazor HD Gen2 4.5-27×56
Steiner Military 5-25×56
Premier Heritage 5-25×56
Kahles KXi 6-24×56
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
S&B PM II 5-25×56
March FX 5-40×56
Main Tube Diameter
Eyepiece Diameter, in
Eye Relief, in
3.7 – 3.3
3.8 – 4
25.4 – 4.4
21.69 – 4.29
22.8 – 4.8
20.4 – 5.25
32.5 – 4.4
15.9 – 4.5
20.95 – 2.62
E: 33 mrad
W: 14 mrad
E: 26 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 28 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 26 mrad
W: 14 mrad
E: 25 mrad
W: 13.8 mrad
E: 26 mrad
W: 12 mrad
E: 24 mrad
W: 12 mrad
Adjustment per turn
10 mrad three turns
Zero Stop with Lock
Yes, 11 levels
every other OFF
Yes, 7 levels
every other OFF
Looking at the numbers a few things stand out:
– FOV of the new Razor is quite wide. Traditionally that is one of the things where German/Austrian scopes has had an edge over Japanese ones. Not any more
– The eyepiece is larger in diameter than the competing designs
– Overall length is short, but the scope has some serious mass to it
– I hesitate to call this scope cheap since it is still $2500, but it is a lot cheaper than the competition and despite the price difference, it really belongs in this group
-The amount of internal adjustment in the new Razor is very generous.
Here is snapshot that shows the overall length of the Vortex next to the Premier. It is a beefy scope with short overall length.
First, let’s talk about optics a little.
Side by side with the Premier, the Vortex has just a touch less resolution and contrast across the magnification range, but the differences are small and you need to look for them. Looking at random objects it was difficult to tell the difference between the two. I had to start looking at some very tiny and low contrast details to confirm that the Premier shows me a little bit more. That is nothing to be ashamed of since the Premier is still the best balanced optical design in this category I have run into. The March resolved a little more detail in the center of the image than the other two, but at the edges both the Premier and the Razor were better.
In terms of contrast, the March was the least contrasty scope here (that is a tradeoff for the crazy resolution it has), with the Razor being somewhere between the Premier and the March.
The color balance of the Razor HD is very neutral (Premier is ever so slightly colder) and similar to the March.
Chromatic aberration is virtually non-existent if you stay right on the optical axis of the scope. As your eye moves slightly to the side, you start seeing a little magenta CA with he Razor. Both Premier and March had a little CA under the same conditions as well, but Razor had a touch more. Still, this is lateral CA only and I have not yet seen a scope that does not show it to some degree. Also, CA is harder to correct in scopes with short overall length, so this is quite an achievement on Vortex’ part.
There was a small amount of radially symmetric CA on the tangential edges of the reticle. For the Razor HD it is yellowish, while for the Premier it is bluish. March reticle is not conducive for showing this type of CA, so I did not spend too much time looking for it.
Flare was well controlled on all three scopes, although with very bright light sources around some sort of shielding (sunshade) is a good idea. Most scopes in this price range have good flare control and the new Razor is no exception.
I did not have a sunshade for the Gen 2 Razor, but I made a makeshift one to experiment with. It helped a little with off-axis bright light sources. Still, there really wasn’t all that much of a problem to deal with, so I am not sure I would worry about it much under just about any conditions. When I carefully set up the nastiest possible lighting conditions for my scope tests I look to find the smallest flaws and amplify them to the point where they are noticeable. In real world use, you are unlikely to notice many of the phenomena I look for.
While the sunshade helps with the Razor I am not convinced I would use it a whole lot if it were my scope. If you are worried about flare or reflection off the objective going out there, investing in a good ARD may be worthwhile.
Depth of field was quite good on the Razor which surprised me a bit: scopes with short overall length usually struggle with this. It was definitely better than I expected and just a touch shallower than the Premier. Depth of field of the March was visibly shallower than that of the other two scopes here.
Mechanically, despite its pre-production status, I found the scope to be excellent with good tracking and repeatability. The turrets are the best Vortex has made to date and better than most I have seen. It definitely has the best feel I have seen to date in a locking turret. The folks over at Vortex tell me that full production scopes will be even better. I would like to see that.
The version I looked at had MOA knobs, but both MOA and MRAD scopes will be available.
I am a mrad guy, so getting used to MOA turrets and reticles always takes a bit of extra attention. MRAD turrets offer 10 mrad per turn adjustment with three turns available (this is mounting dependent of course). The MOA knobs are 25 MOA per turn. There is a tactile and visible indicator on the bottom left of the turret that tells you what revolution you are on. I spent a few minutes with the MRAD turrets at SHOT and I spent a lot of time with the MOA turrets while testing this scope. I like them. A lot. The new Tangent Theta turrets do have better feel, I think, but these lock. To unlock the turret you lift the knurled collar up a little and to unlock you press it back down. That requires some barely perceptible wiggle room in the turret position, but since the clicks are rather widely spaced, that is barely noticeable.
The rest of the adjustments were smooth and repeatable. I did not find hysteresis with any controls and the turrets did not require any settling after adjustment.
The scope focused down to a bit over 30 yards at peak magnification, but the image was reasonably in focus at closer distances if you dialed the magnification down.
The reticle designs carry over from the first generation of Razor scopes with a few changes: the fine lines are thinner with 0.03MRAD thickness vs 0.06MRAD lines on the original 5-20×50 Razor.
The reticle in the scope I tested is the MOA version of EBR-2C. It has extensive ranging capabilities and a rather useful “Christmas tree” arrangement for trajectory and wind holds. The center of the reticle has a 0.25MOA open space.
The snapshots above are solely to show you what the reticle looks like at low magnification and high magnification. In low light, you will really need that reticle illumination which is nicely worked out on this scope with a pullout knurled ring on the side focus turret.
If your battery is dead, turning the magnification all the way down allows the thick bars to get close enough to the center for use, but it is not optimal. I suppose that is the trade off of FFP reticles. It is hard to make a design that both gives you precision at high magnification and visibility at low magnification.
To wrap all this up, if you haven’t yet figured it out, I am very impressed with this scope. I wish it was a little lighter, but aside from that I’ve got nothing to complain about. Despite the weight, it felt quite at home on my Desert Tech rifle and were I in the market for a scope of this type, this one would be one of my top choices (of course, this assumes that full-blown production units will be as good or better than the one I looked at).
A few notes on the gear I used to test this scope:
– The rifle is a Desert Tech SRS with a 6.5×47 barrel.
– The ammunition used consisted of two different batches of my handloads with 130 gr Berger bullets at comparatively sedate 2750 fps. Ramshot Hunter powder for some reason did not get me as high of a velocity as I expected, but superb accuracy and low ES spreads.
– All of the shooting was done at the Angeles Range here in Southern California at distances anywhere from 100 yards to 600 yards.
– All of the tracking tests were done at 100 yards.
– The mount I used was the first generation Aadmount since that is what I had available. It never gave me even a hint of trouble and came back to zero every time I needed to remove the scope.
I decided to do this article on a whim. I was roaming around SHOT a couple of years ago and happened to visit Leica and Zeiss booths one after another. Leica had the re-introduced their Trinovid binocular and Zeiss had the new Conquest HD. Stephen Ingraham (formerly of BetterViewDesired) who works for Zeiss flatly stated that the new Conquest HD will blow anything in the $1000 – $1500 range out of the water. I went back to Leica and mentioned that. The guys at Leica suggested that I follow through with that and I received the 8×42 version of the new Trinovid fairly soon after SHOT. I made a couple of attempts to contact the folks at Zeiss (neither Steve Ingraham nor the other person whose card I had on hand replied) to get a loaner Conquest HD, but never got anyone to call or e-mail back. I am fairly used to being ignored, so I figured they are either busy or do not want to risk having anything to do with me. It is not that uncommon for me to have a nice chat with someone at SHOT and then have that person not give me the time of day. In a grand scheme of things, I have to admit that for a large and well established company, dealing with me is somewhat risky. They already have the name recognition, so if their product does well in my comparisons there isn’t all that much benefit. However, if I say something negative, that might spread. Having failed to get any attention from Zeiss, I changed direction and got a couple of other binoculars into my hands from the good folk at Steiner and Vortex. They seem to be a little less risk averse despite my criticism of some of their products. The article ended up being different from what I originally intended, but also in some ways more entertaining (for me). Rather than do a direct comparison, I decided to get three binoculars of nearly identical configuration, but differing in price. The Steiner Nighthunter XP runs around $900. Vortex Razor HD is around $1200 and Leica Trinovid is $1450. What I was trying to determine was very simple: what do you get for that extra cash? and if I was in the market would I spend the extra cash?
In principle, I should have had the Meopta Meostar in there and, if push came to shove, I could have gotten my hands onto the Conquest HD (I could always buy one and sell it after the test). However, I figured that looking at those three binos would be a good start and would give me enough information to structure the next article appropriately. Besides, I have a lot of hands-on time with the Meostar and it is one of my favourite binoculars of all I have ever seen, especially for the money. Hence, I can refer to it where appropriate.
As always, here is the spec table of the three binoculars I tested (in bold) along with the two I did not look at
Leica Trinovid 8×42
Zeiss Conquest HD 8×42
Vortex Razor HD 8×42
Steiner Nighthunter XP 8×42
Meopta Meostar 8×42
Close Focus, ft
Eye Relief, mm
Schmidt- Pechan Roof
Schmidt- Pechan Roof
Schmidt- Pechan Roof
Schmidt- Pechan Roof
Looking at the specs does not give us all that much useful information. These are all very similar binoculars. Leica and Meopta are a little heavier than the others, while Meopta and Steiner have the widest FOV. Leica has a little less eye relief than the others here, but all seem serviceable enough. The effective eyerelief depends on the eyecup design anyway, since the rear optical element may be a bit recessed due to the eyecups.
I spent a fair amount of time actually using these binoculars with the bulk of it spent using them off-hand. However, some of the testing I also did with the binoculars secured on a tripod just to make sure that my hand tremor is not effecting the results (using the binoculars off-hand only would tilt the scales toward the heavier designs since they are a little steadier). While most of the observation involved me looking out to random distances, I did drag the binoculars with me to a shooting range with steel plates out to 600 yards in 100 yard increments. Having something to look at at known distances helps with depth of field and focus speed evaluation.
I walked away with fairly predictable, but still somewhat unexpected conclusions. All three of these binoculars worked like a charm and never hiccuped. They also ended up being subjected to some unplanned durabillity testing and came out of it unscarred and in perfect alignment. I had them in a small unpadded backpack (Kifaru E&E) when I went on a short hike. The backpack with the three binoculars in it ended up taking a spill down hill (purely by accident of course…). There are beautiful hiking trails not far from where I live, and I often hike out to some hill away from people, settle down on top of it and spend a couple of hours glassing. Sometimes, I also take a laser rangefinder with me to know how far some of the landscape features happen to be. Simply sitting there and glassing tells me a lot about the binoculars. All three of these, worked well and did not strain me unduly. However, Leica was easily the most relaxed binocular to look through and the image through the Leica had the most “pop”. Some (usually very expensive) binoculars have that extra texture in the image that you can almost reach out and touch. I have a suspicion that is the result of having better microcontrast rendition, but I could be wrong. In terms of ability to see real-world detail during daylight Steiner and Vortex were not that far off from each other especially during the day. Leica, however, was clearly better. I had a couple of other people look through the binoculars without me explaining the differences in price or mentioning the brands (I taped up the logos). Both immediately said they preferred the Leica. Between the Vortex and the Steiner, it was a closer call and, in truth, the image quality in good light is pretty close. What also makes the difference is the color balance. Leica has a slightly warm color cast, while Steiner and Vortex have a neutral or very slightly cold color cast. All three are close to neutral, but when you have them side by side, the colors look a little different. I suspect that is one of the reasons everyone immediately grouped the Steiner and the Vortex together with the Leica looking a little different.
My house sits on the slope of a hill, not all that far from the top of it, so despite living in a very densely populated area I have unobstructed view from both lower and upper decks of my house for about 12-14 miles. For those of you who are familiar with Southern California, I live on the slopes of Santa Monica mountains and I can see clear across the San Fernando valley toward Granada Hills and San Gabriel mountains. SInce I am looking across a valley that is home to a couple of million people (I’ll check the census and update the number), there is all sorts of stuff to look at: homes, billboads, distant traffic, cars, etc. I also have a few resolution charts set-up at the tail end of my backyard (my house has another small deck on the back so I can look at the backyard from there).
Looking at conventional black and white resolution charts did not yield any significant differences between these two binoculars. Leica and Vortex were neck-in-neck with Steiner just a little worse. I thought that the roof prisms on the Steiner had some sort of an imperfection on the roof edges of the prisms and when I did the star test at night, my suspicions turned out to be correct. The roof edges on the Steienr prisms must have been slightly less than perfect since stars looked like small crosses instead of points sources if I were just a little off center. The prism irregularities must have created some diffractive effects and extra scatter. I do not know if that was the case for my specific binocular or with all of them.
Looking at color resolution charts (sometimes I print out the same resolution charts but with the patterns in green, red or blue) was a little different. Green resolution was similar across the board. Blue was not far off, but Leica was a little better. With red Leica had even more of an edge.
Then I moved on to color charts. I looked at both regular and extended Macbeth charts and here Leica really stood out from the group. FIne color variations were clearly easier to see. Interestingly, the grain of paper that the targets were printed on was also clearly easier to see with the Leica. Steiner and Vortex, once again, were pretty similar to each other with Vortex having a little bit of an edge.
Overall, the results of my observation of the charts matched well with my impressions from sitting on the hill and glassing.
Last thing to note about the optics is that the depth of field was a little greater on the Leica with Vortex and Steiner being, once again close.
Eye relief, while different on paper, turned out to be pretty similar across the board in actual use. I had not problem getting the eyecups properly set up whether I was using them with glasses or with contacts. Steiner has the fold down stray light shields on the outside of the eyecups, which do help somewhat when there is something bright to your sides.
Whenever I talk about binoculars, I have a tendency to focus on optics a little too much. However, ergonomics, handling and mechanical quality of the eyecups and the focusing mechanism are just as important.
With the advent of comparatively affordable and high quality optics from China people often ask why they should pay more for Japanese or German binoculars. Whether they should or not is determined on a case by case basis. However, while the difference in optical quality is often small, the difference in mechanical quality is often much more noticeable.
With the three binoculars in this group, the quality of the focusing mechnism seems to track price. Steiner focuser is fairly well weighted, but it has a slight emount of slop in it and a touch of hysteresis. Razor HD focuser was perfectly precise, but a little lighter than I like. The focus speed was also higher than with the original Razor, though not as high as the Viper HD. Leica focuser was as perfect as I have ever seen.
Ergonomically, these three binoculars feel very differently in your hands with both the Steiner and the Vortex feeling comparatively slim and long. The barrels on the Leica are larger in diameter and feel like the rubber armoring is a little thicker. Leica felt a little more natural to me since I am used to binoculars like Meopta Meostar and Swarovski SLC which have similar feel and balance. However, with a little familiarization, all three were easy to get used to.
When all is said and done, the question I was trying to answer was whether the price difference between these three binoculars is worth it. That is pretty personal, of course, but if I were looking for a binocular for my personal use, Leica Trinovid would be at the top of the list. $1500 is a lot of money, but I have not seen any less expensive binoculars that can match it. Best I can tell, the new Trinovid has the same optical system as the Ultravid (or is so dangerously close to it that seeing the difference is hard), but without the hydrophobic coatings and in a heavier chassis.
Between, Vortex and Steiner, it is a close call and I am not convinced the Razor HD is necessarily worth the extra $300, especially if the prism issues on the Steiner I looked are not common for the whole line. The Razor HD is better than the Nighthunter, but the difference is not as pronounced as it is with the Leica. What muddies the waters more in the $1000 price range is the Meopta Meostar. All three are not far from each other in terms of performance, but based on my previous experience, I would probably give the Meopta a slight edge as an overall package.
In the past year, I have spent a bunch more time with different scopes and a LOT of time with red dot and holographic sights. Here is my selection for this year. With optics, this time around I will split it into two categories: “Price No Object” and “I would like to stay married”. At the very end there is a somewhat simplified version of my recommendations. Let’s call it “I’d like to stay married and put my kids through college”. If you see me start selling off my guns all of a sudden, that means I am approaching that third category.
Price no Object:
Long range precision scope: Tangent Theta 5-25x56mm with Gen3 XR reticle. It was a bit of a tough call between this scope and March 5-42×56 with FML-TR1 or FML-3 reticles that I designed for them (there are a lot of good options in this category, to be honest).
General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: Tangent Theta TT315M 3-15×50 (still my favourite overall scope on the market, for several years in a row). The one I have is with Gen2 XR reticle, but the new Gen3 XR is likely a better general purpose design. If your interests lean toward more magnification, March 3-24×52 has a lot to recommend itself. I own one with FML-T1 reticle and it is a lot of performance for the money.
General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle. There have been big changes in the segment and this comes down to Vortex Razor Gen3 1-10×24, S&B PMII Dual CC 1-8×24 and the upcoming dual focal plane March 1-10×24. I have rather detailed reviews on these out there. For the money Razor Gen3 is hard to beat. If you like prismatics, Elcan Spectre 4x is still your huckleberry. I have one and some day it will be pried from my cold dead hands. IF you are OK with a bit more weight, there is always Spectre DR. I will say though that for flexibility, LPVOs rule.
Big game hunting scope: LEICA MAGNUS 1.8-12×50 i L-4A BDC. or Blaser Infinity 2.8-2050 if you prefer FFP and want a little more magnification. Tangent Theta 3-15×50 Hunter is also FFP and splits the magnification range difference. I am an FFP guy and use TT on my precision guns, so I would probably lean toward them on a high end hunting rifle as well. Yes, they are expensive, and yes they are awesome, although to be honest, between Leica Magnus, Swaro Z8, Zeiss V8 and Blaser Infinity, a lot of it is just personal preference in terms of features you prefer. Blaser Infinity s 1-7×28 would likely be my choice for a DGR gun.
Red dot for CQB carbines: Shield SIS. I like this one more than Aimpoint and Trijicon MRO. And that is saying something. Still, it hard to go wrong with one of Aimpoint Micros. If you like larger red dots, Meprolight MOR is easily my favourite. This is another category that is very active and there are several very promising design I am looking at. There may additions here before too long.
For use with magnifier: Vortex AMG UH-1 . Holographic sights work better with magnifiers than reflex sights although some newer ones with holdover reticles are making a good case for themselves. I have both Gen1 and Gen2 versions of the UH-1 and I am very impressed with both.
Red dot for handguns: Shield RMS still because of how low profile it is. I have RMS, RMSw, RMSc and SMSc and I have had exactly zero problems with them. Still, this is a rapidly developing category and I am in the process of looking at some really impressive new sights. Holosun HS507C X2 with ACSS Vulcan reticle is really growing on me as far as RMR pattern sights go. It is a clever and very compelling design. New Swampfox red dot sights look good as well, but I have less mileage with them.
Rimfires: precision rimfires can use just about any scope used on centerfire precision rifles as long as they focus close enough. However, I am a big fan of accurate compact and lightweight rimfire rifles, that are easily portable. A good example of that is Ruger 10/22TD. Traditional plinking scopes still work, but we can do better in the modern market. A scope that I really liked for this application is US Optics’ compact TS-12 3-12×44. It has sidefocus, good optical quality and nicely done mechanics. The reticle is a little thin on low power, but it works. Illumination would fix it, but as is I like it a lot. Mine has the FFP MHR reticle.
Airguns (general plinking): I really like MTC Viper Connect 3-12×24. This ultra short eye relief scope is perfect for airguns and that is what I use the most. If you want FFP for not a huge amount of money with the focus range applicable to airguns, US Optics TS-12 (see above) is very nice, but it is hard overlook SWFA 3-15×42 with its 7 meter close focus.
Airguns (precision): since we are in the “price no object” range, March High Master 10-60×56 is quite remarkable. Try it and you will understand why.
ELR: most high end precision scopes mentioned earlier will work, but if you really need a ton of adjustment, March Genesis 6-60×56 and 4-40×56 are really interesting designs.
I would like to stay married (I am looking at optics prices in the ballpark of $750 to $1.5k for scopes in this case; lower for red dots and such):
General purpose scope to use for everything on a bolt gun: the two scopes above also apply here, but I woul dbe remiss to not point out how nice of a scope Vortex Viper PST Gen 2 3-15×44 is.
General purpose scope to use for everything on an AR rifle: This gets a little tricky in this price range. I am not convinced there are many good FFP options in this price range, but there are a couple out there I still need to test. In the meantime, Delta Stryker HD 1-6×24 for ~$750 is a steal. Outside option: SWFA SS 3-9×42 with a red dot at 45 deg offset.
I would like to stay married and put my kids through college:
Sell all your long guns and build an accurate 18″ barrel AR-15 chambered for 6.5Grendel or 6mm ARC. If you do it right, it will weigh around 7 – 7.5 lbs. Put a SWFA SS 3-9×42 on it using an Aadmount, or something similarly robust. Add a moderately priced red dot sight in a 45 degree offset mount (some prefer rail mounts, some mount them onto the scope body; I can make both work). There are also scope mounts with accessory rails for this. SwampFox Justice is probably best bang for the buck with red dot sights, but I have not spent enough time with it to recommend it, so Holosun HS507C X2 with ACSS Vulcan it is although it is more expensive. The whole thing should be around 9lbs with a sling and under 10lbs with a loaded mag.
Sell all your handguns and buy a Glock 48 with a bunch of Shield Arms 15 round magazine. Mill the slide for Shield RMSc.
Take a lot of classes with your AR and Glock.
Have a lifesize poster of you with the AR and the Glock shooting a silhouette of a someone who your daughter thinks might be boyfriend material on the wall of your daughter’s dorm room. It should have an appropriately detrimental effect on her social life.
Written by ILya Koshkin and requested by Weby Shops
Riflescope Selection for AR Variants.
Every once in a while I go over my correspondence for the previous few months to see if there are any apparent trends in the questions I get. As far as riflescopes go, one thing is apparent: I field an ever increasing number of questions on proper scope selection for the various AR-type rifles out there. Now that I think about it, this is hardly surprising. ARs (also known under a politically correct and, in my opinion, a little bit silly term MSR: Modern Sporting Rifle) are everywhere and come in a dizzying variety of configurations, weights, and calibers. Similarly, intended uses vary considerably ranging from basic plinking to home defense, to hunting, to varminting, to precision shooting, and so on. Because of that I found myself suggesting a similarly dizzying array of sighting systems from miniature red dots to long-range precision scopes. With that in mind, I figured that it is worth my while to categorize different AR rifles according to use and configuration and come up with both general and specific recommendations on the appropriate sights for them for a variety of budgets. I will also insert some commentary and recommendations on mounts where appropriate.
First of all, let’s consider the different AR types out there, starting with the action size and chambering.
There are two basic action sizes for the ARs. I will refer to them as AR-15 and AR-10 which is not strictly speaking correct, but is short and easy to type. The actual names vary with the manufacturer, but as far as I am concerned an “AR-15” implies an action length originally designed for a 223Rem or 5.56x45NATO chambering, while “AR-10” refers to actions that can fit larger 308Win or 7.62×51 cartridges. Technically, there are a couple of different and not completely compatible standards for 308-size AR rifles: Armalite-based and DPMS-based, but there is no real difference between them from a riflescope selection standpoint, so I will call them all AR-10s for the sake of simplicity.
Both action sizes have been adapted to a variety of other calibers, but those calibers have to fit in the overall dimensional envelope of either 5.56×45 or 7.62×51.
Technically, there are some even larger AR-style rifles out there chambered for 300WM and 338LM, but they are very few in number and very specialized, so I will ignore them for the time being.
The original AR rifle was designed for the 7.62×51 chambering and sized accordingly; however, since the military was looking for a select fire rifle in 5.56×45, it was quickly downsized to fit it and that is still the most common chambering for an AR-15. Keep in mind though that since 5.56×45 and its civilian sibling 223Rem were originally designed as varmint cartridges, their sporting use is limited.
Additionally, the arguments about stopping power of 223Rem have been going on long enough to create a whole market segment for AR-15 rifles chambered in other calibers. The action size limits how long and how thick those other calibers can be, but there are still quite a few out there. Here is a partial list of AR-15 chambering (these are the ones I can remember off the top of my head), but I am sure there are others out there that I forgot about:
5.56×45/223Rem: this is the original AR-15 cartridge which has undergone a tremendous amount of development since it was first introduced. There are factory loads out there with bullet weights ranging from 40gr varmint bullets to 77gr match/precision bullets with everything in between. This is still a pipsqueak caliber, comparatively speaking, but with the right bullet I find 5.56×45 to be both accurate and effective. My 5.56 rifle is set up for 75gr and 77gr bullets and I am comfortable hitting targets out to 500-600 yards with it.
204 Ruger is dimensionally similar to 5.56×45, but uses a smaller 0.20” caliber bullet intended primarily for varmints. A heavy barrel AR-15 chambered for 204Ruger is probably the most effective varmint rifle in the AR family. It works with standard AR magazines and bolts.
6×45 is a rather popular wildcat chambering that takes a basic 5.56×45 case and expands it a little to use a larger 6mm bullet. The primary advantage of this chambering is the ability to use heavier bullets that are more effective on big game and work a little better out of short barrels owing to larger expansion ratio. It uses standard AR magazines and bolts
6.5 Grendel (and the nearly identical 264LBC) is an attempt for a true general purpose AR-15 rifle that can be configured for anything from CQB to long range. I have a 6.5Grendel rifle and it can reach out to 900-1000 yards with exterior ballistic similar to 308Win. It is probably the best balanced of AR rifles and makes for a competent hunting and competition round. It uses customized magazines and bolts.
6.8 SPC is a Remington backed cartridge originally developed in the Special Forces community by people who have been looking for something with higher lethality than military issue 5.56×45. It has seen very limited use in the military world, but I see it used by hunters more and more, on game that is seldom tackled with 5.56. This cartridge had a bit of a rocky start, but seems to be reasonably well established now. It is at its best within 500 yards and a lot closer than that for big game hunting. It uses customized magazines and bolts.
7.62×39 is an AK-47 round that is occasionally chambered in AR-15s. Technically, the tapered shape of 7.62×39 makes it a poor match for the geometry of an AR-15 action, but there are a few of these out there. Still, in the AR world, the 7.62×39 has been largely superseded by the next cartridge on my list.
300 Blackout (and the nearly identical 300 Whisper) is effectively a shortened 5.56×45 case necked up to accept 0.308 caliber projectiles. It is sometimes referred to as 7.62×35. It uses standard AR-15 magazines and bolts and accommodates a variety of chamberings ranging from 110gr bullets that nearly replicate 7.62×39 ballistics to heavy subsonic loads that push 240gr bullets at moderate speeds. In its subsonic guise, this caliber works exceedingly well with suppressors. This round is backed by Remington among others and is well positioned to thrive in the future. I finally built one of these for myself, and I like it quite a bit.
30AR is Remington’s attempt to create a 30 caliber hunting cartridge for an AR. I suspect that this will go the way of the dodo before too long.
7.62×40 Wilson is a cartridge designed primarily for hunting and is likely to exist for some time among the Wilson aficionados. I will be surprised if it ever reaches significant popularity.
The thumpers: 458 SOCOM (on my list of rifles to acquire), 50 BEOWULF and 450 Bushmaster. These cartridges loosely approximate the ballistics of classic leverguns chambered for 45-70. In the grand scheme of things you can load the good old 45-70 a fair bit hotter, but the comparatively diminutive AR “thumper” rounds are not that far off.
Here is a picture of a few AR cartridges I have. From left to right: 5.56×45, 300AAC Blackout, 7.62×39, 6.5 Grendel, 458 SOCOM and 308Win.
With AR-10 the chambering choice is a little more uniform, since this platform is generally not as popular. However, pretty much any cartidge loosely based on the 308Win case can be (and has been) easily adapted: 243Win, 260Rem, 7mm08, 338 Federal and so on. However, 308Win/7.62×51 account for the vast majority of AR-10s out there.
With the chamberings out of the way, let’s touch on the configurations and applications. None of these are set in stone and some configurations allow for a great variety of uses. Still, I have to classify them somehow:
Lightweight carbine. These are typically AR-15s of some sort that look like the M4s used by the military. There are some AR-10s configured in this general manner, but they are at least a pound or so heavier since the rifle is inevitably more massive. Typical chamberings are 223Rem/5.56×45 and 6.8 SPC in AR-15s, while the AR-10 is usually 308Win. Barrel length usually works out to be right around 14.5” or 16”, often with a permanently attached flash hider. These rifles are, in principle, intended for home defense, but they are most often used for plinking and the sighting systems reflect the fact that potential engagement distance is not very long.
Mid-to-heavy weight precision carbine. These rifles are just as compact as the lightweight carbines, but are a fair bit heavier owing to the thicker barrel made with precision in mind. Recce barrel profile is a good example of something used in these rifles and they invariably come with free-floated handguards. Until comparatively recently, this class of rifles did not exist, but it is growing in popularity. These are somewhat general purpose weapons since they are maneuverable enough for CQB, while allowing very precise fire when called upon. They cover the same engagement distances as the lightweight carbines and extend it further out to 400-500 yards as necessary. The sighting system therefore, should be versatile enough to cover a variety of ranges and be a “jack of all trades”, so to speak.
SPR rifle with its heavy 18” barrel came out of a military project that asked for an accurate heavy barrel M-16 variant optimized for firing heavy 77gr bullets to an effective arrange often exceeding 600 yards. While technically this rifle is only marginally longer and heavier than a precision carbine, in practice the sighting systems are quite different and the scopes used are really focused on precision fire at fairly extended ranges. That does not mean that the short range use is irrelevant and the rifles are often set-up to allow for CQB; however, the overall emphasis of this rifle is precision at extended ranges (by AR standards) in a compact package. Hence, the sighting system has to be selected with both precision and flexibility in mind.
General purpose AR is typically a rifle with a 18’’ or 20” mid-weight barrel. This is a pretty common configuration for both AR-15s (chambered for 5.56×45 or 6.5 Grendel) and AR-10s. The original M-16 was equipped with a 20” barrel and since the rifle overall is very compact, there are quite a few of them out there. These rifles are used for plinking, hunting, predator shooting (usually accurized) and a variety of other tasks. The longer barrel is helpful for hunters since the bullet has a little more velocity, while the rifle is still reasonably handy and lightweight. Scopes for these rifle are usually not too dissimilar from regular hunting scopes, although there are, of course, some additional considerations specific to ARs.
Heavy varmint rifles are typically AR-15s with bull barrels of 20” to 24” in length chambered for 223Rem or 204Ruger. Oddly enough, ARs make superlative varmint rifles and there are a lot of them out there equipped with large high magnification scopes.
Long range precision rifles are more typically built on the larger AR-10 action chambered for a variety of cartridges from 308Win to 260Rem and some others. However, AR-15s chambered for 6.5 Grendel and equipped with long barrels acquit themselves admirably out to a 1000 yards or so. Scopes best suited for these rifles are often large and heavy and lean strongly toward the tactical end of the optics spectrum.
In the subsequent installments of this article series, I will expand a little more on appropriate scopes for each one of these rifle types and offer some recommendations in a variety of price ranges.
AR Scopes: Lightweight Carbine
I have seen the phrase “lightweight carbine” mean different things to different people, so as a first matter of business, I will define what I mean by it as it applies to AR-type rifles.
A lightweight carbine, to me, is built primarily for compactness and light weight with other considerations (aside from reliability) secondary.
There is no hard and fast rule on what “light weight” really means and there is no hard cutoff here. Besides, it also varies between AR-15 and AR-10 variants. One mistake that people make is in thinking that a lightweight AR carbine should be the same weight as an ultralight bolt-action rifle. The weight correlation is not direct, since an AR-15 of equivalent weight is usually shorter than a bolt action gun and has a more neutral balance. As an exercise, I spent some time experimenting with a variety of rifles and realized that the perception of “light weight” has nearly as much to do with balance and fit as it does with actual weight.
Here is the lightweight carbine I built for myself:
It sports an Adams Arms ultra-lightweight upper with piston gas system, and I could not be happier with it.
I use it to test sights and scopes of all sorts and, believe it or not, I actually do not have a dedicated scope for it right now. It almost always has something I am writing an article about mounted. However, that also gives me a good perspective on how different sights and scopes work on this gun.
In the picture above, there is a small non-magnifying red dot sight mounted on the rifle and if your rifle’s primary purpose in life is home defense (i.e. you do not expect to shoot past 100 yards with any regularity and most shooting will be notably closer than that) then this configuration will work well. That was the original purpose I had for the gun, but after I put it together it turned out that the little thing is quite accurate and handles like a dream, so I had to think a little more about the best sight for it.
Here are some options I came up with for a lightweight carbine, depending on the specific application and budget.
If you want a carbine primarily for home defense and fast shooting, get a red dot. I am not a big fan of full size red dots, but I really like the smaller ones. They are unobtrusive and perform exceptionally well. The king of miniature red dot sights is, in my mind, Aimpoint Micro. It is not cheap, but the battery lasts forever, brightness adjustment is very natural and the dot is remarkably fast and easy to pick up:
For a flattop AR, you will want to get a riser, while for a carry handle mounting, all you need is a base (I prefer flat top ARs as a general consideration). One notable downside of using this scope on an AR is that the illumination control is on the right side of the sight. ARs are really designed to be run with the right hand on the grip and left hand operating the controls. Still, that is a workable issue.
Most miniature red dot sights are really designed with secondary sight application in mind (with a regular scope being a primary), but the Aimpoint Micro does a fine job as a primary sight. A couple of other miniature red dot sights I like in primary applications are Leupold Deltapoint and Vortex Razor (mounted on the rifle in the picture above). They are even smaller than the Aimpoint and a bit less expensive, though still not cheap:
Deltapoint is a bit smaller, while the Razor has an ingenious battery tray for easy battery replacement.
There are some less expensive miniature red dots out there, but I have not had good luck with the ones I have seen. There are some I still need to test though.
Ultimately, if you want a red dot on a budget that does not allow for one of the sights I already mentioned, I need to be looking at full size models, since there are more options there.
I have heard good things about the Lucid HD, which is a very full featured sight considering the price.
Vortex Strikefire and Sparc are not quite as full featured, but are less expensive and in the sub-$200 category I would take these two over anything else out there. I am not crazy about the control buttons on both of these. However, they work well enough, and it is really a matter of personal preference. Sparc is the smaller one of the two and I like it a little more:
If all you want to do with your carbine is plink at the range, just about any scope you have lying around will do as long as it holds zero. I have seen all manner of hunting scopes on AR carbines. However, if you are looking to make your carbine into more of a general purpose gun, you need something that can perform with almost as much speed as a red dot sight, while giving you some magnification for precision shooting when needed.
On the surface, it would seem to be quite straightforward to go pick a low range variable scope of some sort (1-4×24, 1-6×24 or thereabouts), slap it onto your gun and be all set. In practice, it gets a little more involved since these carbines are pretty light and mounting a heavy scope on it upsets the handling and balance of this lightweight rifle in short order (something, I learned the hard way). As I go through the options below, you will notice that I largely stay away from the newly fashionable 1-6x and 1-8x scopes. They tend to be both heavy and expensive, so I try to stick to scopes that top out at 4x.
Here are some recommendations I can make that keep both weight and performance in mind.
Trijicon Accupoint 1-4×24 that retails for around $800 is comparatively light for a 30mm tube scope at a bit over 14 ounces and with its bright reticle illumination, it is very fast to use, while dialing up to 4x give you some precision.
Leupold Patrol VX-R 1.25-4×20 is the lightest good quality variable scope I know of at 11 ounces or so, and if you can swing the $570 price tag it is probably your best choice in magnified optics for lightweight carbines. It does not give you true 1x operation, but it is close enough and brightly illuminated dot in the center of the reticle really helps with speed.
The $500 Vortex Viper PST 1-4×24 is one of my favourite scopes in terms of bang for the buck. It has every feature under the sun along with a well-designed reticle. It is a touch heavier than Trijicon at 16 ounces, but still very serviceable and less expensive.
Hi-Lux/Leatherwood CMR is similarly sized to the Vortex and is also very fully-featured. It is a little less expensive at $350 or so, but unusually good for the money. I tested a few versions of this scope and liked the value and the reliability.
One of the scope I mentioned above, would, in my opinion offer the most for your money. However, there are other options with scopes specifically designed for ARs and featuring compact dimensions and fixed magnification. I am talking about the famous (due to extensive military use) Trijicon ACOG and its many competitors: Elcan Spectre, Leupold HAMR, Browe etc.
Still in terms of light weight performance, Trijicon is king. Using it for close distance targets requires a little more training than a red dot, but it is doable and effective. If you are willing to put in the effort, a 4×32 ACOG is a superb, albeit pricy, light weight option:
If you are not especially interested in holdover reticles (i.e. you do not expect to want to shoot beyond 300 yards a whole lot), an even smaller compact ACOG might be an even better option. I have a lot of mileage with the 3×24 model that has been discontinued, but I have also dabbled quite a bit with a diminutive 1.5×24 an 2×20 (pictured below) compact ACOGs and walked away impressed. With the compact ACOGs retailing right around $1k and the 4×32 ACOG even more expensive, these are not for everyone. However, there is a reason the military uses them: they are light sturdy and optically sound.
If you are wondering what I decided to put on my person lightweight carbine after all… well, to be honest, I am still a little conflicted. I started out fully intending to mount a low range varible scope on it, but I am leaning toward either the ACOG or Leupold HAMR or the new Hensoldt 4×30 AR scope. Once I test them side by side, I will pick one of them and buy it.
AR Scopes: Precision Carbine
Mid-to-heavy weight precision carbines are often just as compact as the lightweight carbines, but are a fair bit heavier owing to the thicker barrel made with precision in mind. Recce barrel profile is a good example of something used in these rifles and they invariably come with free-floated handguards. Until comparatively recently, this class of rifles did not exist, but it is growing in popularity. These are somewhat general purpose weapons since they are maneuverable enough for CQB, while allowing very precise fire when called upon. They cover the same engagement distances as the lightweight carbines and extend it further out to 400-500 yards as necessary. The sighting system therefore, should be versatile enough to cover a variety of ranges and be a “jack of all trades”, so to speak.
To start off, I have to admit that this is easily my favourite AR variant out there, so I have spent a lot of time considering the sighting systems for it. This rifle is supposed to combine compactness and precision, so it may be called upon to satisfy the broadest range of applications of all ARs and the sighting system is supposed to be similarly versatile.
When people talk about how a particular rifle handles, they all too often focus on weight a bit more than they should. However, a short rifle, even if it is not a featherweight, can handle exceptionally well and ARs with 14.5” to 16’” barrels often fall in that last category.
A precision carbine can be the same thing as a lightweight carbine if you have one that happened to be unusually precise. That is what happened to me, more or less: I set out to build the lightest possible AR carbine with a piston gas system which turned out to be so accurate that I slapped a scope on it and decided to use it as a precision carbine. It is the rifle at the top of the following picture, shown next to another AR I have that is sporting a long range scope on it:
The scope on the carbine is the recently released SWFA SS 1-6×24, but any good quality 1-4×24 or 1-6×24 makes a good fit. The SS runs around $1k and while not cheap offers a lot for the money.
Not too long ago I spent some time testing Vortex’ PST 1-4×24 and set it up on another precision carbine for for :
The 1-4×24 PST is a decidedly less expensive scope retailing at around $450 – $500. Still, I could comfortably use it out to the practical limits of this rifle, which happened to be around 500 yards.
Yet another option (if you have some money to burn) is the much more expensive IOR 1-10×26:
I think you are getting the drift of where I am going with this: an optimal scope for the precision carbine is a variable design that starts out at 1x and goes up to anywhere between 4x and 10x depending on your price range.
These scopes are usually equipped with fairly sophisticated reticles that allow for quick target engagement at 1x and easy holdover at higher magnifications. There has been a lot of development recently in higher erector ratio scopes, so the 1-4x24s are typically older designs, while 1-6x, 1-7x, 1-8x, and 1-10x are considerably newer. Lower erector ratio scopes are often better at 1x, so keep the intended use in mind as you go through different models.
As of mid 2013, here are the scopes that I like in this category, segregated by price.
Under $500: there a great variety of Chinese 1-4×24 scopes in this price range and the only oneс I really like (and that seem to be manufactured quite consistently) is the Leatherwood CMR 1-4×24 that retails for $300 – $350 and Hawke Endurance 30 1.25-4.5×24 that is under $300. The Hawke comes with a simple but serviceable #4 reticle. Keep in mind that Hawke also makes a 1-4×24 which has a different optical system that is less well worked out.
Right around $500, there are two very respectable designs that I have a fair amount of mileage with: Vortex Viper PST 1-4×24 and Leatherwood CMR4 1-4×24. The PST is very popular scope and for a good reason: it offers a good assortment of reticles, good glass and very solid mechanics. The CMR4 is a higher end version of the CMR with better optics and more solid turrets. If you like complicated reticles, take a good look at the CMR4. It offers a lot of information. However, at 1x, the PST reticles offer faster target acquisition since they have thicker features.
Moving up in price, your options open up a bit more. For around $800, there is the 1-4×24 version of the SWFA SS which has a well designed Front Focal Plane (FFP) reticle. All other scopes I have mentioned so far have Second Focal Plane (SFP) reticles, so if you plan to use reticle holdover, you should be mindful of magnification. A good SFP option in this price range is Sightron S3 1-7×24. I have not yet tested this scope, but I have seen it and while I am not enamored with the reticle they use it seems like a solid design overall. If you like simpler reticle design, you should be taking a close look at Trijicon Accupoint 1-4×24 with its tritium/fiberoptic illumination. It is not optimal for longer range shooting, but very fast close up.
In the $1000 to $1250 price range, you have several very competent 1-6×24 or similar options. Since I like FFP scopes I am partial to the SWFA SS 1-6×24 and GRSC/Norden Performance 1-6×24 scopes. That having been said, if your preferences lean toward SFP reticles, Vortex Razor HD Gen II 1-6×24 is most definitely worth a look. The Razor has phenomenally wide field of view and very bright reticle illumination. It is very fast to deploy and seems to be very popular with competition shooters.
At $1500 and up prices, you have a variety of offerings from all the high end brands and by and large they are all good scopes. They all have their strengths and weaknesses (mostly strengths), so if this is the price range you are looking at, shoot me an e-mail with your requirements and I’ll try to walk you through it. I have not tested all of these, but looked at most of them. Kahles 1-6×24 is one of the easiest scopes to get behind I have seen to date. It is lightweight and has bright illumination, so I expect it to do well with competition shooters. March’s new 1-8×24 that I am testing right now, leans more toward precision shooting, while still being quite compact and light. I think their reticle needs work, but it is serviceable. Leupold was probably the first to market with their 1-8×24 CQBSS and it seems like a very respectable piece. There are a few other 1-8×24 scopes out there worth taking a look at: Premier, S&B and US Optics come to mind. IOR seems to be the only one with a 1-10×26, although it has some tunneling at low end, so it is really a 1.25-10×26 design that is quite heavy to boot. Still, it is a very competent precision scope at 10x, with impressive flexibility owing to the large magnification range.
AR Scopes: SPR
I spent quite some time trying to decide whether I want to differentiate between SPR rifles and precision carbines. Ultimately, these are very similar weapons, but I typically see them equipped with different sighting systems and different furniture. I chose as a basic SPR configuration a rifle with a heavy match grade 18” barrel since that is what the original Crane development project used. However, I have seen similarly equipped rifles with heavy barrels anywhere between 16” and 20” in length.
The big difference between SPR rifles and precision carbines is that the SPR is basically a designated marksman weapon with long(ish) range precision out of a fairly compact package being the first and foremost purpose for its existence.
A typical SPR rifle, in addition to a match grade barrel, also has a match chamber of some sort (there are all sorts of alternative chambers for 5.56×45) with the throat really optimized for heavy bullets in the 75gr to 80gr range. The most common would the 77gr Sierra MatchKing. A typical target is about man-size. This is not a rifle designed to shoot prairie dogs, so the scope and the reticle have to be designed to hit man-size objects pretty far away.
The original scope Crane selected for its SPR concept was the Leupold Mark 4 3.5-10×40. While that specific scope is not my favourite optic out there, as far as configurations go, it is not a bad choice.
Here are the basic qualities that I want in an SPR sighting setup:
Sufficient magnification and exit pupil size to clearly identify and engage man-size targets out to 800 yards
FFP (Front Focal Plane) reticle for ease of range estimation and holdover (a lot of people will disagree with this one, but I am rather particular about this)
Quality turrets for dialing in the trajectory and wind compensation when time allows it (there are exceptions to this) with clicks that match the reticle (mil/mil or MOA/MOA)
Sufficient exit pupil size somewhere in the magnification range for good low light performance
Reticle design (whether illuminated or not) that allows for good aiming point visibility in low light
Moderate overall size and weight in order to not unduly compromise the handling of the rifle
There aren’t any cheap scopes that I am aware of that satisfy all of those requirements. To be more exact, there are some that satisfy these requirements on paper, but they are not built to the standards that are good enough for me to recommend.
In the sub-$500 category, I would either stick with a fixed power scopes like the Hawke Sidewinder Tactical 30 10×42 or SS 10×42, or a second focal plane variable with a ranging reticle like Hawke Sidewinder 30 4.5-14×42 or Nikon Buckmaster 4.5-14×40 with a Mil-Dot reticle.
In the under $1000 price range, there are several very worthwhile options that satisfy all of the requirements on my checklist above. Aside from a couple of proprietary designs in the SS line-up, the most notable of those are Vortex Viper PST 2.5-10×32 and Weaver Tactical 2-10×36.
Both are fairly compact, but very capable scopes. The magnification range is about right and since they top out at 10x, objective lenses in the 32mm to 36mm range are not really a hindrance. Overall, I think the PST is easily one of my favourite scopes in this category:
Also in the same price range are a couple of larger scopes from the same product families: Vortex Viper PST 4-16×50 and Weaver Tactical 3-15×50. To me both are a bit on the large side for SPR rifles, but not by all that much. In terms of optical quality, Weaver Tactical 3-15×50 is an unusually good design for this price range, although the Vortex is not too shabby either.
The slightly smaller Bushnell Elite Tactical 3-12×44 is another very worthwhile choice. When Bushnell just came out with this scope I had my reservations, but current version of it is very well sorted out with better reticles and updated illumination. The one I would suggest you look at is the model with G2DMR reticle in it:
One of PFI Rapid Reticle scopes is also well optimized for this role, but a bit expensive at $1800 or so. Still, I think military uses them and if you like to do everything with the reticle (i.e. you do not want to adjust the turrets after the initial set-up) their RR900 is very much worth a look. It is a 2.5-10×40 FFP design with a reticle configured with the heavy bullet 5.56×45 in mind:
As with any complex reticle, there is a learning curve involved with using it, but that learning curve is, to be honest, minimal. Other systems that use complicated reticle (like Horus) are much harder to become competent with and do not lend themselves to switching back and forth between systems. PFI’s Rapid Reticle is comparatively easy to use.
Going up in price, your options, interestingly enough, do not open up nearly as much as you would think since most tactical scopes tend to be a bit too large for this application. There is a variety of scopes in the 3-12x to 3-18x magnification range from the well known high end scope makers, but most of them have largish 50mm objective lenses.
For about $1300 or so, IOR makes a 2.5-10×42 scope with FFP reticle and recently upgraded turrets. This same basic design has been in production for a number of years, so all the kinks have been worked out.
IOR also makes a 3-18×42 model that is not too large, but quite heavy. For this application I like their 2.5-10×42 more, but if you want a little more reach, 18x is nice to have. The FFP version of this scope retails in the $1600 range.
If you have money to spend and are comfortable with a largish scope, Premier Light Tactical 3-15×50 at around $2400 is hands down one of my favourite scopes out there at any price.
Now, if we are talking about scopes that cost upwards of $2k, I want to mention the new Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44. It is a pretty new design and I have not put it through a thorough test, but it looks very promising if you have $2600 to spare.
Lastly, there is the US Optics 1.8-10×37 MR-10 scope. I think USO has just gone through a bit of a renaming spree because I could swear this scope used to be one of the SN-3 models. Now it is called MR-10, and it has a lot to recommend itself. I have been occasionally harsh on USO scopes, but the 1.8-10×37 is one of my favourites. While not light, it is compact and very sturdy. USO allows you to configure scopes in a variety of ways, and configured the way I like it with a GAP illuminated reticle and EREK elevation turret, it runs around $2300 or so, while the basic configuration is just under $2k. This is not a scope I typically recommend to people relatively new to shooting. However, if you have enough experience behind you to know exactly what you want, I suggest you give US Optics some serious consideration.
AR Scopes: General Purpose AR
In the past, general purpose rifle was a hunting style bolt action rifle chambered for 30-06 or something along those lines. Well, the times have changed and more and more of the gun enthusiasts and hunters in this country are virtually brought up on ARs. I suppose that being America’s primary battle rifle for a few decades helps propagate the design a bit.
To me, a general purpose rifle is a jack of all trades and a master of none. I own one rifle that is kinda like that, although when I was putting it together, general purpose anything was the last thing on my mind. I was trying to build the best compact long range gun I could on an AR-15 action. I ended up with a rifle that sports an 18” barrel with a 264LBC chamber (a version of 6.5 Grendel). With the right bullet, this cartridge is supersonic to 1000 yards (900 yards at sea level) and can work for anything from home protection, to hunting, to target shooting, to plinking in a pinch. It has very light recoil and is quite accurate, so I ended up using it for scope testing quite a bit. By now, I have had every scope type known to man mounted on that rifle, so I have developed a pretty clear idea of what works well on it.
Before I get any further with this, I want to elaborate a little more on rifle choice. If you are looking for a general purpose rifle and want it to be built on an AR platform, sit down and put together a list of what you will use it for. If the list is dominated by tasks like plinking and home defense with occasional varminting thrown in, you should be looking at an AR-15 variant chambered for 223Rem/5.56×45. Yes, I know that the military found this cartridge less than optimal for taking people down, but keep in mind that the military is prohibited from using well constructed bullets. We can use any bullets we want and loads that utilize bullets like Nosler Partition and Barnes TSX make the little cartridge effective enough, while still giving you access to a variety of plinking ammo.
If your list leans a bit more heavily toward stopping power and you do not mind reloading, take a close look at the various cartridges that fit into AR-15 action, but deliver a heavier bullet. The three most common ones are 300AAC Blackout, 6.5Grendel/264LBC and 6.8SPC. I own rifles chambered for both the Blackout and the Grendel, and I have a bit of experience with 6.8SPC as well. If you plan to get a suppressor, get the Blackout. Your effective range is closer than with the Grendel, but you can have both supersonic and subsonic loads that shoot a much bigger bullet than 5.56×45 does. If you are not planning to get a suppressor, this comes down to 6.5Grendel and 6.8SPC. To be perfectly blunt, I think the Grendel is a better cartridge than the 6.8SPC overall, but its biggest advantage is long range. If you want your general purpose AR to reach waaay out there, get the Grendel. For applications within 400 yards, there is little to differentiate the two.
Lastly, if your idea of a general purpose cartridge means hunting first and foremost, do yourself a favor and step up to the larger AR-10 platform. If you still want to plink with it, stick with 308WIn/7.62×51 chambering. If you reload, any round based on the 308 case will do the trick: 260Rem, 7mm08, etc.
Now, let’s look at the requirements for scopes to mount on one of these rifles:
Variable magnification with low end no higher than 3x (or a fixed 4x or 6x power scope if you are old fashioned)
Top end magnification in the 9x to 18x range.
Objective lens in the 32mm to 44mm diameter. Larger diameter objectives work well on ARs, but it is too easy to end with a scope that really upsets the balance of the gun, so I suggest staying in the ballpark of 40mm.
The reticle has to work well in low light either through line thickness of illumination.
Both FFP and SFP reticle work fine and the choice between the two is personal.
If you look at this list carefully, you’ll realize that every scope I recommended for SPR applications will work well here. However, we can expand it by a fair bit. For example, a lot of hunters prefer the sight picture provided by the SFP reticles (reticles that do not change apparent size as you change magnification) and if you do not use the reticle for holdover or range estimation, SFP reticle is a very good way to go.
Since my requirements here open the door to a lot of hunting scopes, there are several very serviceable inexpensive options:
– $200 and under: Both Vortex Diamondback and Burris Fullfield make very nicely sorted out 2-7×35 and 3-9×40 scopes. They are very sturdy and have decent reticle. If you are on a budget, these should be at the top of your list. If you want something with cartridge specific turrets and reticles, Nikon’s P-223 (for 223Rem rifles) and P-300 (for 300 Blackout rifles) are good options.
– $400 and under: while it looks like a serious jump up in cost compared to the price range above, it does not get you all that much more. However, your options do open up some. Meopta Meopro 3-9×42 is a solid step up in optical quality, for example. Also, Nikon M-223 scopes (with 2-8×32 being my favourite) offer good optics with cartridge specific BDC turrets. Lastly, if your idea of a general purpose AR includes varminting or other pursuits requiring high magnification, Sightron SII 4-6×42 is worth a look.
– above $600: frankly, most general purpose ARs have scopes that are a little cheaper than this and most of what I would recommend here, I already mentioned in the article on scopes for SPR rifles.
There are of course other options and the variety available out there is staggering. ARs are very versatile rifles, so they can comfortably support almost any scope unless it is so large it outweighs the rifle itself. Hence, before I wrap up, I will touch on three different configurations that I have played with.
Configuration 1: you’ll do everything with this rifle, but your overall emphasis is on quick plinking and self-defense. You are not looking for extreme precision and you are not happy with iron sights alone. Perhaps, you will be happy with a decent red dot sight. There are many to choose from, some of which I have mentioned in previous articles, like Aimpoints and Trijicon SRS. However, those are expensive. In lower price ranges, Lucid sights are worth a look and they are an easy fit for ARs.
Configuration 2: you want some magnification, but you also want the simplest possible manual of arms, i.e. nothing to adjust. You want to shoulder a rifle and have the image right in front of you with some magnification. You want it there regardless of lighting conditions and you want it simple to use. Prepare to spend a little money, then. You should be looking at a few offerings that cost right around $1000: Trijicon Acog, Leupold HAMR, Elcan, etc. Here is what a 4×32 Acog looks like on an AR-15:
Configuration 3: Your general purpose AR is also you general purpose rifle. You want to use this thing for, literally, everything from plinking to big game hunting to shooting coyotes to…. just about anything. There is a good chance your AR is chambered for something beefier than the 223, which makes it a legitimate big game hunting rifle among other things. You are willing to put in some serious money into a sight that would do almost everything well. If this sounds familiar, consider something like this:
This is a 3.5-14×42 Leica ER scope. It is not cheap, but it is absolutely superb. There are competing design that are just as good from Swarovski, Zeiss and others, but the Leica is a bit more affordable than those and easily as good overall and better in some ways.