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Tactical Scopes: Field Test Overview & Rifle Scope Line-Up

This is the first post in a series that will cover the results from an epic scope field test focused on long-range, tactical rifle scopes in the $1,500+ price range. This represents an unprecedented, data-driven approach to evaluating the best tactical rifle scopes money can buy. Hundreds of hours have gone into this research, and both the scope line-up and the tests I conducted are built on advice and feedback from some of the most respected experts in the industry. Keep in mind this is a field test, not a laboratory test … and I’m not claiming it’s flawless. I did put my best effort into this being as objective, precise, and unbiased as practically possible using the equipment I could afford. My goal with this project was to equip fellow long-range shooters with as much hard data as I could reasonably gather, so they could see what they’re paying for.

Best Tactical Rifle Scopes

  1. Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50
  2. Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50
  3. Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
  4. Kahles K 6-24×56
  5. Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
  6. Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
  7. March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP
  8. Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50
  9. Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56
  10. Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
  11. Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
  12. Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
  13. Steiner Military 5-25×56
  14. US Optics ER25 5-25×58
  15. Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50
  16. Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50
  17. Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50
  18. Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6–24×56

Rifle Scope Street Price

All scopes met these guidelines:

  • Average price is over $1,500
  • Variable magnification with at least 18x on the high end and 6x on the low end
  • Available with a tactical/milling reticle (i.e. evenly spaced marks on the vertical and horizontal axis)

There was an intense, 4 week peer-review for this entire project, where I solicited feedback on what scopes should be included, and published details about the tests I was planning to conduct and asked for critiques. Honestly, I got some outstanding feedback and it took this whole project to another level. I originally hoped to keep the number of scopes to 12-15, but increased it to 18 to try to fit in the most popular models that I could. I listed out a few of those who helped in a previous post, but thanks again to all the optics engineers, industry experts, scope companies, and individual readers that donated time and effort to help with this.

Why Did I Do This Field Test?

In the book Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting, Bryan Litz has a quote that really sums up my approach to a lot of things. It is from the chapter named “Getting Control of Sights,” where Bryan is talking about the importance of understanding your scope. Here is his quote:

The overall philosophy of dealing with sights is: DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED! The bottom line is to deal in absolute fundamentals, measure them, and remove all the assumptions. If you don’t measure everything with calipers, tape measures, rangefinders, levels and plumb lines, you can’t be sure that your sights are properly calibrated. Don’t ever assume that something is what it says without measuring it. – Bryan Litz

That quote does a great job of summarizing my fundamental philosophy. This type of scientific, data-driven approach seems to be built into me as an engineer, and I honestly don’t think I could fight it if I tried.

My goal with this project was to equip fellow long-range shooters with as much hard data as I could reasonably gather, so they could see what they’re paying for.

As a full disclaimer, my goal isn’t to make money off this website. At this point, I still haven’t made a dime off of it. That isn’t my goal, or the reason I do this. In fact, I’ve been approached by several manufacturers (including some of these scope manufacturers) with offers to sponsor this website. I’ve declined every one of them. I want to stay independent, so you guys can trust my content to be unbiased. While I’m very passionate about long-range shooting, it’s just a hobby for me. My wife might say this was a part-time job, that just pays really poorly! Honestly, I have a great job that I love in a completely different industry. I’m content with my pay there, so fortunately I’m in a spot where I can afford to be an idealist! Ultimately, I believe the shooting sports world needs an independent voice that can’t be bought and is willing to tell it like it is, so I’m trying to be that. I’m not out to get any manufacturers, but I’m not interested in getting in bed with any either. I don’t want to have to feel like I have to pull punches if I see flaws in their products. I know this may sound foreign or hard to believe, but its the way it is.

Where Did The Scopes Come From?

Most of the scopes were loaned to me from the manufacturer directly, but not all of them. A few were used, and either borrowed from friends or part of my personal collection. And there were still a few I wanted to include, but couldn’t get access to. The guys over at EuroOptic.com graciously loan me a few brand new scopes off their shelves … about $20,000 worth of scopes. They’ll be selling those used once I ship them back, so you might be able to catch a great deal on a few of these scopes from them. You can check out their used & demo inventory here.

For full disclosure, here is where I got each scope and some background if a scope wasn’t factory new.

Rifle ScopesConditionSource & Notes
Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50NewLoaned by Bushnell
Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50NewLoaned by Bushnell
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56NewLoaned by EuroOptic.com
Kahles K 6-24×56NewLoaned by Jeff Huber (US Distributor)
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44NewLoaned by EuroOptic.com & Leupold
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56NewLoaned by EuroOptic.com
March 3-24×42 FFPNewLoaned by Kelbly.com (US Distributor)
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50UsedOne of my personal scopes, purchased Nov 2012 and mounted on a 7mm Rem Mag rifle for 1,400 rounds
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56NewLoaned by Nightforce
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56NewLoaned by Nightforce
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56NewOne of my personal scopes, hadn’t been mounted on a rifle prior to these tests
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56NewLoaned by EuroOptic.com
Steiner Military 5-25×56NewLoaned by Steiner
US Optics ER25 5-25×58NewLoaned by US Optics
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50UsedBorrowed from a friend, had been shot on a 6.5-280 AI for a few hundred rounds (yes, Virginia, there is such a cartridge)
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50NewLoaned by Valdada
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50NewLoaned by Vortex
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6–24×56NewLoaned by Zeiss

How Results Are Published

There are a lot of aspects that go into a scope’s performance, and I conducted a lot of different field tests. I’ve grouped these into a few different categories:

  • Optical Performance (resolution, contrast, field of view, zoom ratio, etc.)
  • Ergonomics (weight, size, turret that is easy to use and read, etc.)
  • Advanced Features (reticle options, locking turret, zero stop, illuminated reticle, tactile clicks, etc.)
  • Mechanical Performance (precisely calibrated clicks, internal adjustment range)

I performed many tests for each area and gathered a ton of data. Instead of disappearing for a couple months while I write all this content, I’m planning to publish the results for each category as I work through the data. That should get them in your hands faster, but because I’m still crunching all the data, creating the charts/graphics, and writing the content … there will be a week or two between each post. Please be patient with me.

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Other Post in this Series

This is just one of a whole series of posts related to this high-end tactical scope field test. Here are links to the others:

  1. Field Test Overview & Rifle Scope Line-Up Overview of how I came up with the tests, what scopes were included, and where each scope came from.
  2. Optical Performance Results
    • Summary & Part 1: Provides summary and overall score for optical performance. Explain optical clarity was measured (i.e. image quality), and provides detailed results for those tests.
    • Part 2: Covers detailed results for measured field of view, max magnification, and zoom ratio.
  3. Ergonomics & Experience Behind the Scope
    • Part 1: Side-by-side comparisons on topics like weight, size, eye relief, and how easy turrets are to use and read
    • Part 2 & Part 3: Goes through each scope highlighting the unique features, provides a demo video from the shooter’s perspective, and includes a photo gallery with shots from every angle.
    • Summary: Provides overall scores related to ergonomics and explains what those are based on.
  4. Advanced Features
    • Reticles: See every tactical reticle offered on each scope.
    • Misc Features: Covers features like illumination, focal plane, zero stop, locking turrets, MTC, mil-spec anodozing, one-piece tubes
    • Warranty & Where They’re Made: Shows where each scope is made, and covers the details of the warranty terms and where the work is performed.
    • Summary: Overall scores related to advanced features and how those were calculated.
  5. Mechanical Performance
    • Part 1: Shows how precisely calibrated the clicks are on each scope.
    • Part 2: Reticle cant, measured elevation travel for each scope, and other mechanical tests
    • Summary: Overall scores related to mechanical performance.
  6. Summary & Overall Scores: Provides summary and overall score for entire field test.

About Cal

Cal Zant is the shooter/author behind PrecisionRifleBlog.com. Cal is a life-long learner, and loves to help others get into this sport he's so passionate about. His engineering background, unique data-driven approach, and ability to present technical and complex information in a unbiased and straight-forward fashion has quickly caught the attention of the industry. For more info on Cal, check out PrecisionRifleBlog.com/About.

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31 comments

  1. Valdada is going to take home 1st prise!!!

  2. Such a pity they didn’t test the Valdada-IOR 5.8-40×56, 40mm, Crusader

  3. Reblogged this on Longrangedesign's Update and commented:
    Jag har tidigare flaggat för denna kommande test av seriös optik till skytte på längre avstånd. Nu är 4 av 8 resultat postade i vad som mest troligt kommer vara en av de mest omfattande testerna av långhållsoptik under de närmsta åren. Detta är en test som genom sitt genomförande mest troligt även skapar en ny teststandard för kommande seriösa jämförande tester av optik. Helt enkelt ett kanontest från Precisionrifleblog.com

  4. Excellent work! Why wasn’t the s&b included in the tracking test?

    • Both S&B scopes were included in the results. The first chart is alphabetical and they’re side by side, the second chart is by performance. The S&B 5-25 is in the middle of the pack, and the S&B 3-27 is towards the bottom.

  5. Try the SWFA SS 5-20 X 50. Very good glass, great reticle, 1st FFP, superb tracking, illumination ok, maybe. I prefer this over the Nightforce BEAST at better than $1000 less

  6. I forgot to add, MIL MIL and extreme durability

    • I’ve heard a lot of good things about that scope. If I ever test another batch, that one will definitely be included.

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • I loved the test. I personally think the main thing it showed was price does not equal quality. As some of the higher priced scopes in the test performed near the bottom. And as good as the Recon did just shows you can not believe what you read on a lot of forums that do nothing but bash IOR’s. In fact if IOR offered more reticle options it probably would have scored the highest over all. But great job Cal.

      • Thanks, Phillip. This was enlightening to me as well, for the same reason. It also showed none of them are perfect … yet. Each has strong points and weak points, some just more than others.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  7. Can’t believe you left out Huskemaw ????

  8. Cal,

    Thanks for your work. Very enlightening.

    I am always amazed at people who contribute nothing, yet take the time to criticize a person who spent their own money and time to help others.

    You could test 100 scopes and somebody would be on here expressing disbelief that you did not include their favorite.

    Please ignore such twits.

    Thanks again,

    Ian

  9. Awesome test, these scopes are worth the money, Thanks for Excellent work.

  10. Which generation Kahles K 6-24×56 did you test? 1st or 2nd?
    I’m curious how the Gen 3 Kahles scopes would do optically.

    • Sorry, Scott. I can’t remember what model that was. It might have been Gen 2. I’ve talked to the US Kahles distributor several times, and it sounds like Kahles is continually tweaking and improving the design. He was really excited about the last changes they made. He thought it made a measurable difference. I’ve yet to see it though.

      I do REALLY like all the new reticles they released this year. Those are pretty killer. Could be the best reticles in the industry.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  11. I am in the market for a long range, high-end riffle scope. I want a tactical style scope with excellent light gathering capabilities at high power. What do you suggest in all price ranges? Thanks.

    • Hey, Barry. I don’t think I could give you a better recommendation than what I covered in this series. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, you can cut to the chase and read the summary here.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • First off, great review! Highly informative. The amount of time and effort you put into this is extraordinary. I understand not being able to use or get your hands on every scope that fits the parameters.
        I appreciate the fact that you also used some not so commonly used scopes as well, Kahles Hendsoldt etc.
        I do have one question. One of the oldest, highest quality and most trusted scopes in the world was not in the test. Swarovski. I’ve owned several Z5’s and the clarity and resolution is amazing. And they run @ $1700.00 I’ve never had the opportunity to look through a Z6, but I imagine they are excellent as well. I have put a Zeiss Victory FL and a Swaro Z5 side by side and the clarity and contrast are simply stunning.
        Anyway, I’m getting off topic. Great review. Best review of scopes I’ve ever seen. But why no Swaro’s?
        And will you be doing another review of other high end scopes? Several have come out since this review. Thanks again.

      • I didn’t include any Swarovski scopes because they offered zero tactical reticles at the time. Since then I’ve heard they came out with one, so I may test one at some point. But honestly, if a scope doesn’t have a tactical reticle (i.e. evenly spaced hash marks on both the horizontal and vertical axis), then I’m not interested in it and honestly don’t consider it a viable option for serious long-range shooting. Maybe I’ll include them in some future review, but they didn’t meet the criteria for this one.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  12. Trijicon…?