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Tactical Scopes: Advanced Features

So far in this series, I’ve touched on optical performance, ergonomics, and reticle options. This post looks at advanced features like illumination, focal plane, locking turrets, zero stop, and other features like anodizing, and whether it uses a one-piece tube.

First Focal Plan (FFP) or Second Focal Plane (SFP)

Basically, on FFP scopes the mil/MOA marks are valid at all magnifications, which means the shooter can use the magnification level most appropriate for the situation and still have effective holdover and windage reference marks. While the proportions of the reticle will appear to change when adjusting the magnification, in reality the reticles values are remaining in proportion to the target.

On SFP scopes the mil/MOA marks are only valid at a specific magnification, typically the highest magnification, which may not be ideal for some shots … but if you want to hold for elevation or wind, you need to shoot at that magnification. Here is a video that demos FFP vs SFP.

Front Focal Plane vs Second Focal Plane Rifle Scope Reticle

Most long-range shooters prefer First Focal Plane reticles, because of their flexibility (work at any magnification). One downside is that you need to have a good reticle that can be easily seen at low magnification, and not too thick at high magnification. Trying to strike this balance has really pushed reticle design.

Here is the breakdown of which scopes use which:

First Focal Plane Scopes (FFP)Second Focal Plane Scopes (SFP)
Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50
Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
Kahles K 6-24×56
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
Steiner Military 5-25×56
US Optics ER25 5-25×58
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56

Illumination

The following table shows what reticle illumination features each scope offers. Illumination can be helpful in low light scenarios or when looking at dark backgrounds. But with the huge zoom ratio on some of these scopes, it also may be necessary to see the reticle at low magnifications. I noticed this to be true for the H2CMR reticle on the Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 High Power scope. For that reticle to not be too thick at 27x, it has to be really thin at 3x. In fact, it is so thin it was very difficult to see, but once you flip on the illumination, it is completely usable. So while in the past illumination may have been viewed as a luxury only applicable for low light scenarios, but as we start to have scopes with 7x or even 10x zoom ratios this other use at low magnification becomes important.

ScopeHas Illumination# of SettingsNight Vision Compatible
Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50No
Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50No
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56YesInfiniteYes
Kahles K 6-24×56YesInfiniteYes
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44No
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56Yes8Yes
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFPYes4Only w/ NV module*
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 Yes1**No
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56Yes10Yes
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50Yes1**No
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56Yes11Yes
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56Yes11Yes
Steiner Military 5-25×56Yes11Yes
US Optics ER25 5-25×58Yes12Yes
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50Yes11Yes
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50Yes11Yes
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50Yes11Yes
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56YesInfiniteYes

*If you want to use the illumination on March scopes with night vision equipment, you need to order the special night vision compatible illumination module. They have a standard illumination module with 4 settings, and a night vision illumination module with 4 settings. You can swap out the modules, but there isn’t one that can do both.

**There is a way to adjust the intensity of the illumination on the Nightforce ATACR and NXS, but Nightforce even admits in their manual that it isn’t “field adjustable.” You essentially have to remove the parallax knob and adjust a small rheostat dial hidden under the battery using a small flat-head screwdriver. Since it can’t adjusted on the fly in the field, I specified that it only has one setting in the table above.

MIL/MOA Reticle Availability

All of these scopes are available with mil-based retilces (aka mrad or milliradian reticles), but not all of them are available with MOA reticles. Here’s the breakdown:

ScopeMil ReticleMOA Reticle
Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50YesNo
Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50YesNo
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56YesNo
Kahles K 6-24×56YesNo
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44YesNo
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56YesNo
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFPYesYes
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56YesYes
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56YesYes
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50YesYes
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56YesNo
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56YesYes
Steiner Military 5-25×56YesNo
US Optics ER25 5-25×58YesYes
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50YesYes
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50YesYes
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50YesYes
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56YesYes

Zero Stop Turret

This feature is referred to by a ton of different names like ZeroStop, Z-Lok, ZeroLock, and other names, but they all work similarly. This is a feature on the elevation turret that allows the shooter to preset the zero and avoid the possibility of dialing below zero. You can essentially adjust the turret so that you can dial down the elevation and it will stop when you return to your zero. Some prefer the stop to be a few clicks below zero (for various reasons), and some like it to be right at zero. If the scope had the option to stop at zero or a few clicks below zero, I counted that as having a zero stop feature.

ScopeZero StopAllows stop a few clicks below zero
Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50YesYes
Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50YesYes
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56YesYes
Kahles K 6-24×56YesYes
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 with ZeroLock TurretYesNo
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56 with Pinch & Turn TurretYesYes
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFPYesYes
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56YesYes
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56YesYes
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50YesYes
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56YesYes
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56YesYes
Steiner Military 5-25×56YesYes
US Optics ER25 5-25×58Yes*Yes*
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50YesYes
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50No
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50YesYes
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56No

*The US Optics ER-25 scope doesn’t technically have a zero stop feature, but it has something with a similar effect. In the USO manual, it says “The Erector Repositioning Elevation Knob (EREK) incorporates a center screw for rough zeroing. This allows the knob to be zeroed near the bottom of its travel so that all movement of the knob is upward.” George from US Optics described that feature as a way to “allow the shooter to maximize gross elevation travel adjustment independent of the elevation knob. In short, there is more usable travel for shots taken at farther distances.” This is a very cool feature, and I’m not sure any other scope manufacturer offers this capability. At the same time, this feature allows you to make it so the knob “bottoms out” on your zero (or a few clicks under your zero). So while they don’t advertise this as a “Zero Stop” it has a similar net effect from the user’s standpoint, and also gives you the advantage of having a full 26+ mils of adjustment for those Extreme-Range shots (hence the ER in the model name). Watch a video to see how this works.

Turret Direction

Most scopes sold in North America have turrets that turn in a counter-clockwise (CCW) direction, but clockwise (CW) turrets are common in Europe. Honestly, there isn’t an inherent advantage either way. It’s just confusing for a little while if you’re used to one direction and you switch to a scope that is the opposite direction … or potentially painful for a lifetime if you own both and regularly each of them. Most commit to one camp and stick with it.

All of these scopes are CCW turrets, except the Hensoldt and Zeiss scopes are only available with a CW turret. The Schmidt and Bender scopes are conveniently available in either configuration, so pay attention to which you order.

High Speed Turrets

“High Speed” turrets are simply turrets that offer a lot of clicks per revolution. While this used to be an advanced feature only available on some scopes, in recent years its becoming standard. All of these scopes are available with high-speed turrets with at least 10 mils or 20 MOA of elevation per revolution.

Double Turn Turret Design

The Double Turn (DT) design seems to be getting more popular in high-end scope designs. This is in part due to advances in the amount of clicks per revolution. With new technology and improved manufacturing processes, designers are able to pack in more adjustments in a single turn of the turret. That means we can now fit all the elevation travel needed by most shooters in just two turns of the turret, hence the name “Double Turn.” For example, the Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56 provides 36 mils of adjustment in their Double Turn turret, which is enough adjustment to shoot a 338 Lapua Magnum out to 2500 yards!

The advantage of the DT design is that it is easier to keep track of what revolution you’re on. The DT design also makes it a lot easier to design a revolution indicator, because it just has to tell you if it’s on the 1st or 2nd revolution. Some innovative revolution indicator designs from Hensoldt, Steiner, and Schmidt & Bender make it completely obvious what rotation you’re on. Check out the ergonomics posts and turret demo videos to see what I’m referring to on this.

Here are the scopes that feature a Double Turn turret:

  • Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
  • Kahles K 6-24×56
  • Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 with ZeroLock Turret
  • Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56 with ZeroLock Turret
  • Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
  • Steiner Military 5-25×56

More Tactile Clicks (MTC)

As I pointed out in the post on ergonomics, many of the scopes had positive clicks with sound, but there is another class of clicks referred to as More Tactile Clicks (MTC) that are supposed to be easier to adjust simply based on feel (no visual confirmation necessary). Only 5 scopes offer MTC turrets:

  • Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
  • Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 with Pinch & Turn Turret (At least very noticeable detent on zero and multiples of 5)
  • Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56 with Pinch & Turn Turret (At least very noticeable detent on zero and multiples of 5)
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 with MTC LT Turret
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 with MTC LT Turret

Locking Turrets

Some people prefer to have a turret that can be locked, so you don’t accidentally move it off zero or a predefined adjustment. Not all scopes have locking turrets, and the designs vary significantly. Some are unobtrusive, and other designs could make the scope more cumbersome to use. I’d suggest reading through the ergonomic posts and watch the turret demo videos to get more context on the lock design before you decided whether you really want one or not.

Here are the scopes that have an option for a locking turret:

  • Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50
  • Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50
  • Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
  • Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
  • Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
  • Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
  • Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56

Tool Free Zero Reset

You need a hex key (aka Allen wrench) or other tool to reset the zero on most scopes. However, the Leupold’s Pinch & Turn Turret has a tool-less design for resetting the zero. This turret is available on both the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 and the Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56. It essentially has two pins that you can press in with your fingers to release the turret ring so you can spin it to zero and snap it back in place. It’s simple and is a quick, handy feature.

In addition, the Leupold Custom Shop can make custom ballistic rings that you could easily swap out so you could use the same scope on different calibers or loads. And with the tool-free design, it would take less than 20 seconds to swap them out.

One-Piece Tube

Many feel like a scope with a one-piece main tube is a better design than multi-piece tubes. Here is an excerpt from ChuckHawks.com on the topic:

One-piece tubes are superior to two or three piece main tubes. It is not just the extra potential leak paths; anytime you machine threads into an area of a tube, you weaken it as the wall thickness is reduced. Threads have tolerances. If they did not, threaded components could not be hand assembled. From a design standpoint they are inferior in strength, assuming the same metallurgy. There is only one reason multiple piece main tubes exist in scopeland today: they are cheaper to assemble. This is both basic and universally embraced.

That could be an overly dogmatic view, but it stands to reason that a 1-piece tube is a simpler design that should be easier to get completely straight, and it would likely be inherently more rigid as well.

One-Piece Scope Tube

You might expect main housing for all the scopes in this price range to be a single tube, but that wasn’t the case. There were a couple that use multi-piece designs for one reason or another. This doesn’t necessarily mean they are poorer designs. It simply means these designers would have to take additional measures to mitigate the inherent issues noted above. In fact, while many of Nightforce’s scopes are a one-piece design (like the ATACR and NXS), they have some models that are multiple pieces including the new Nightforce BEAST. Nightforce did tell me they’ve never experienced an issue with their multi-piece designs.

One-Piece Main TubeMultiple Piece Main Tube
Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50
Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
Kahles K 6-24×56
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
Steiner Military 5-25×56
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
US Optics ER25 5-25×58

Mil-Spec Anodizing

Anodizing is an electrochemical process that converts the metal surface into a durable, corrosion-resistant finish. Anodizing techniques can vary considerably. The most widely used anodizing specification is Mil Spec 8625 F, and the top scope manufacturers use an anodizing process that meets or exceeds Type III Hard Coat Specs. These specs define acceptance criteria such as coating weight, corrosion resistance, abrasion resistance, paint adhesion, and other standards for workmanship, process control, testing, etc.

I asked each manufacturer if their anodizing meets mil-spec. Most of them knew with certainty that it did, but a few weren’t sure. Here are the results:

Anodizing meets Mil-SpecUnknown
Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56
Kahles K 6-24×56
Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44
Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56
March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP
Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56
Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56
Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50
Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56
Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56
Steiner Military 5-25×56
US Optics ER25 5-25×58
Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50
Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50
Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50
Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50
Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50
Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56
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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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15 comments

  1. I thought the IOR 3.5-18×50 had a zero stop. It was really just a collar on the turrets but I thought it was there. Actually I seem to recall a secondary zero setting too.

  2. Regarding the use of Second Focal Plane scopes:

    SFP scopes can be used accurately at more than just the calibrated ranging magnification. Many shooters will use their SFP scope at half of the the calibrated ranging magnification to double the published reticle subtensions. Example: A reticle that measures 5 Mils on 25x will measure 10 Mils on 12.5x. As shown earlier in this test series, the magnification must be confirmed for complete accuracy.

    Technicality about Nightforce illumination:

    The ATACR and NXS illumination are infinitely adjustable, just not externally adjustable. The cap on the parallax knob must be removed to access the rheostat that adjusts it.

    The BEAST has 5 levels of illumination with each red and green, in addition to 2 levels of green illumination for NV.

    • Thanks Drew. I almost explained the 1/2 power approach for SFP scopes, but didn’t want to confuse people. I’ve also learned in my testing that the marked indexes on a scope are typical not accurate, and in some cases far from the real spot of magnification. It’s definitely a complex and time consuming process to calculate it, so I just left that aspect out.

      I didn’t know about the illumination on the ATACR and NXS under the cap. I’m still going to call that a single option, because you have to get out tools to adjust it, which you likely wouldn’t do in the field … but it is good to know you could adjust it if you thought it was overly dim or bright.

      My contact at Nightforce said there were 6 day settings of illumination on the BEAST and 4 night settings. Are you sure there are 12 settings? I actually can’t see the night vision settings because they’re so dim (and I don’t have night vision gear).

  3. Outstanding series of work! Invaluable to those of us who are unlikely to get our hands on these scopes until after we’ve bought them. Appreciate all your hard work and look forward to the next instalment.

  4. excellant work done

    Amazing hard word work done so intelligently. It covers all aspects; experienced professionels and novices all can learn and gain knowledge about scopes in a short time. It would other wise take years of experience thousands of dollars remorse and tears on wasted ammunition, lost matches and game animals , time and money to learn half as much.

  5. From what I gather, the reticle review involves all the options available, and not only the ones tested. If that is the case, I don’t understand why the Zeiss scope is listed as being without illumination. I know they have an illuminated version with infinite settings. Anyway, thanks for all the effort you are putting into this test. It is awesome.

    • You are absolutely right, and that was an oversight on my part. The model they sent me to test didn’t have an illuminated reticle, but they do offer a version with that feature. The manual does say their illuminated reticle “control is infinitely variable up to a preset minimum or maximum.” I’m not sure if it is night-vision compatible, but I’ve fired that question over to my contact at Zeiss. They are typically very responsive, and as soon as I hear back from them I’ll update this post with that info. I’m sorry that I overlooked that, and appreciate you catching my error.

  6. I truly appreciate the effort you have put into this project. It is the best information available on the internet.

  7. I like that you’ve taken into account the Double Turret and Zero Stop feaures and used them for the classification. You could also classify turret design by “physical(tactile) turn indicator/visual turn indicator” because, for example, the new Vortex Razor HD Gen II has a tactile indicator allowing for 3 turns, instead of just 2 like some of the already available Double Turret designs.

    • That’s an interesting thought. I may go back and do that after I wrap up the series. At this point, I’m just trying to get all the results posted (writing the mechanical performance post now) … but I do like the idea. Thanks for the tip.

  8. Cal,
    First off, thank you for all your hard work. This must have been truly labor of love… or you are simply bananas. Either way excellent work!!!The amount of time and energy that you put into this really shows in all the small details covered and level of polish in the final product. Personal favorite so far is the short videos showing just the operation of turrets; simple yet brilliant. Detailed comparison of turrets; to me is an area that too often does not get the attention it deserves in most reviews/comparisons.

    The ergonomics video of the DMR appears to have a zero stop and the above zero stop chart confirms this information. Yet, I don’t see a zero stop listed as a feature for this scope on any retailers website. Can you please confirm if the DMR indeed has a zero stop or are my eyes playing tricks on me?

    • Hey Goosed, great question. I probably wasn’t clear enough on that, because I can see how you’d be confused. The DMR doesn’t have zero stop, but the ERS does. I debated on how to display the advanced features like that and essentially decided to display that a scope did have a feature if there was a model available with it, not just if the exact model I tested had it. That seemed like a more complete and helpful view, but I should probably add a disclaimer on that in the article.

      In the video, it appears to have a zero stop because I had set the zero to the place where it bottoms out. I did that to make it easier on me to count clicks (which is data that will be published in the post I’m working on now), but it’s VERY unlikely that specific spot would be someone’s zero. The DMR doesn’t have the clutch or any of the internals built into the elevation knob that would allow you to adjust the specific spot where the knob stops turning.

      Sorry for the confusion, but thanks for asking. Someone else might have that same question and now it’ll already be answered in the comments. Thanks!