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Tactical Scopes: Field Test Results Summary & Overall Scores

This is the executive summary and overall scores 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 scopes money can buy. Over 400 hours have gone into this research, and the line-up and tests are built on advice from some of the most respected experts in the industry. 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.

I’ve published ridiculously exhaustive details, which you’re invited to read … but I’ll try to sum it up in this post.

Long-Range Rifle Scope Reviews

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

All scopes met these guidelines:

  • Sells for more than $1,500 (had to draw the line somewhere to keep the number of scopes manageable)
  • Variable magnification with at least 6x on the low end and 18x on the high end
  • Available with a tactical/milling reticle (i.e. evenly spaced marks on both vertical and horizontal axis)

Why Didn’t You Include …

  • Premier – They’re no longer in business.
  • Tangent Theta 5-25×56 – Tangent Theta was still in pre-production on this scope when I started these tests, and couldn’t send me a test scope.
  • Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 – Vortex hadn’t started production on this scope when I started these tests, and couldn’t send me a test scope.
  • SWFA Super SniperMost models are below the $1500 price limit. In fact, there is only one model that is exactly $1500.
  • Counter Sniper – You’re kidding, right? 😉
  • My Favorite Scope – It either doesn’t match the guidelines above, isn’t one of the most popular models in this market segment, or is represented well by one of the 18 scopes already in the test.

About The Tests

DON’T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED! The bottom line is to deal in absolute fundamentals, measure them, and remove all the assumptions. Don’t ever assume that something is what it says without measuring it. – Bryan Litz, Applied Ballistics for Long-Range Shooting

Bryan Litz’s quote above exemplifies my philosophy. I’ve tried to find an objective approach to quantify as many features and as much performance as I could. 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.

There was an intense, 4 week peer-review for this project, where I solicited feedback on what scopes should be included, and asked for critiques on the detailed tests I planned to conduct. That feedback honestly took this project to another level. 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.

This test included $70,000 worth of optics. But for the most part, that only consisted of one test scope per model and many of those were loaned from the manufacturers directly (see where each came from). Ideally, I’d have gathered 5+ test scopes for each model from random retail shelves throughout the world … but that would’ve totaled $350,000. Not only am I not comfortable borrowing $350k of glass (as if retailers were lining up to send me scopes), it took me 400+ hours to test 18 scopes and analyze and publish the data. I realize that’s ridiculous. But testing 90 scopes in this in-depth fashion is ludicrous, and virtually impossible.

While this field test is absolutely an original, valuable tool for evaluating scopes, people shouldn’t take this as gospel. It’s just another tool in your toolbox when researching scopes. I recommend a balanced approach by reading other reviews (like those by ILya Koshkin and BigJimFish), talking to shooters with hands-on experience with the equipment, looking at what the experts are using, and considering a company’s reputation and longevity.

As a full disclaimer, my goal isn’t to make money off this website. At this point, I’m still in the red (i.e. it’s cost WAY more than it’s paid). I’ve been approached by several manufacturers (including some of these scope manufacturers) with offers to sponsor this website. I’ve declined everyone to date. 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. 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 feel like I have to pull punches if I see flaws in their products. This may sound foreign or hard to believe, but it’s the way it is.

Overview of Tests

Optical Performance

I took a fresh approach to quantifying optical performance. Instead of getting caught up in technical aspects like coatings or HD glass, I focused on the end result: overall image quality perceived by the user. This was the only part of my field test that wasn’t directly measurable, so I went to extreme lengths to mitigate human bias. These were double-blind tests (nobody knew which scope they were looking through), and I averaged the results over 6 people of various ages, most of whom were “disinterested parties.”

Scope Reviews

The optical clarity tests were all conducted in an indoor, controlled environment using eye exam charts and other standardized optics charts at 100 yards. The eye exam charts were similar to what an eye doctor would use to test visual acuity, and I scored the size of letters and accuracy testers could read through each scope.

Scope Reviews Optics Resolution and Contrast

I also measured the actual field of view. With the help of many optics experts, I devised a way to set the apparent magnification of each scope to exactly 18x (instead of trusting the marks on the magnification ring). That allowed the measured field of view to be directly comparable across all the scopes.

Scope Field of View

I also came up with a method to determine the maximum magnification (as perceived by the shooter), and calculated the zoom ratio based on that measurement. The photo below is a quick illustration of my approach, but I provide more details on all these tests in the Optical Performance Posts.

Long-Range Scope Magnification

 

Mechanical Performance

Mechanical performance is critically important, but has been largely neglected by the shooting press. Here is what Dennis Sammut, Founder/President of Horus Vision, has to say on the subject:

Yearly, a virtual mountain of written information is spewed forth from the word processor of gun writers. … When the subject is “riflescopes,” the writer’s primary focus is on external looks, dimensions, weight, reticle, image resolution, power range, and similar physical characteristics. It is impossible to find an article that evaluates a particular riflescope or runs a test on a group of a riflescope’s ability to accurately respond to elevation and windage knob adjustments.

I put a lot of energy into this part of the tests, because I feel like it is part of my original contribution to the shooting community. I ran a lot of tests, but a major one was analyzing how precisely calibrated a scope’s mechanical adjustments were from 5 to 20 mils. Many experts suggest you check how well your scope tracks, and after this test, I realize why they’re so adamant … even these top tier scopes don’t track as well as you might expect. I was able to quantify the amount of mechanical error in each scope, which was enlightening. After I published the mechanical results, many were inspired to test their own scope, and I’ve been contacted by several who’ve said their results were virtually identical to these published results.

Rifle Scope Reviews

I also tested for reticle cant, and actually discovered a measurable amount in a few of the scopes. I measured the max elevation travel in each scope, compared the amount of elevation travel per revolution, and conducted a live-fire box test with a magnum rifle.

Ergonomics

I published a lot of information on the experience of using the scope that simply isn’t available anywhere else. It helps compare some of the things you’d notice if you had a chance to get behind the scope and use it for a few days. I hit obvious topics like weight and size, but also dive into eye relief, turret design, how easy are the knobs to operate, how easy is it to read the numbers on the turret, how tightly packed are the clicks on the turret, and other items. I even go scope by scope, listing notable features and things to keep in mind. Plus, I provide a video of the scope in use from the shooter’s perspective, and a high-res gallery with photos from every angle.

Rifle Scope Photo Gallery

Advanced Features

Rifle scope innovation seems to have found a new gear lately, which has led to a mountain of new features. It can be confusing to figure out which scope has which features, because of a lack of information (or confusing info) from the manufacturers, or the info is poorly organized on their website or buried in a manual. To make matters worse, the names of these features can vary by manufacturer. So I sorted through all that stuff, and presented it in a clear-cut way that is easy to compare.

For long-range shooters, the most important of these features is the reticle, so I compiled a comprehensive gallery of the tactical reticles available in each model. I also researched which scopes included features like zero stop, locking turrets, illumination, turret direction, double turn turret designs, more tactile clicks (MTC), toolfree zero reset, one-piece tubes, mil-spec anodizing, and others. And I compared First Focal Plane (FFP) and Second Focal Plane (SFP) models. Lastly, I compared the warranty terms of each scope. My intent with this area was to give you an idea of how many of these advanced features each scope offers, and also make comparison easier for items that are notoriously hard to find or difficult to compare side-by-side.

Overall Scores

Before I started publishing any of the results, I surveyed 700+ readers to establish what the shooting community felt were the most important features for a long-range, tactical scope. For example, is optical clarity or mechanical precision more important? This feedback helped me determine how to weight the various aspects in my overall score. This ensures the overall scores reflect what’s most important to the precision rifle community, instead of being based on one person’s opinion. Here are the results of the survey:

Scope Reviews Rating

As you can see, shooters thought mechanical performance (precisely calibrated clicks and internal adjustment range) was most important, and ranked it slightly more important than optical performance (resolution, contrast, field of view, and zoom ratio). Trailing those, was what I’ve grouped as “Advanced Features,” which includes reticle options, locking turrets, zero stop, illumination, etc. And right behind that was Ergonomics, which is the size and weight of the scope, as well as the overall experience operating the scope (i.e. how easy is the scope to use).

Based on that survey, and lots of conversations with long-range shooters, I’ve developed a very detailed benchmark for tactical scopes. I used this benchmark to calculate the overall scores for the 18 scopes I tested.

Tactical Scope Benchmark

Best Tactical Scope

Drum roll, please … here are your overall results for the field test based on the tests and weights described above:

Tactical Scope Reviews Ratings

1 Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25x56

The Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 ended up on top, which may not be a shocker, but it just confirms why most of the top shooters use them (see data on what the pros use). It is a proven design, and while the S&B 5-25×56 wasn’t the top performer in any one category … it always seem to be in the top 5, and that well-rounded consistency is what earned it the top spot. Among the specific scopes I tested, the optical clarity of the Zeiss and the Schmidt and Bender 5-25×56 scopes were in a class above the rest (see the optical post for more details on that). It also had one of the largest field of views. The design and overall feel of Schmidt and Bender’s DT turret was a favorite among many of the testers.

2 Nightforce BEAST

Close on its heels, and coming in at #2 overall, is the Nightforce BEAST 5-25×56. The BEAST was released by Nightforce in 2013, and contains many innovative features. It is the only First Focal Plane (FFP) Nightforce scope in this test (the only other FFP they offer is an older design 3.5-15×50 model). The BEAST features a Double Turn turret design (a first for Nightforce) with an incredibly massive amount of travel per revolution. Not everyone was a fan of the unique ½ click elevation switch in this design, because it is just one more thing to double-check before you pull the trigger. That switch combined with the locking turret knob, also made the BEAST an unusually tall scope. But obviously, there were enough great things about the Nightforce BEAST to earn its way to the #2 spot.

After those two scopes, the race gets really tight. There were only 1.4 points separating #3 from #8, and only 3.5 points separating #3 from #11! That’s just a 4% difference in overall score from the 16th percentile to the 61st percentile! However, even though the overall scores were close, there was a lot of variance in how each one got there. Some performed outstanding in one aspect, only to fall short in another, and other scopes were more consistent with moderate performance all around.

3 Kahles K 6-24x56mm

Coming in at #3 is the Kahles K 6-24×56. Kahles is the tactical sister company of Swarovski. They’re a well-known brand in Europe, and making a strong reentry into the US. Kahles has a rich history, manufacturing their first scope in 1899! The Kahles 6-24×56 proved to be a strong contender. The glass on the test scope I received didn’t perform as well as the others that ended up in the top half, but an absolute flawless performance in the mechanical calibration tests made up a lot of the difference. It was also the lightest scope among those finishing in the top half, and had the widest field of view of any scope tested. The Kahles scope did have one of the smallest zoom ratios (i.e. magnification adjustment range) among this group of scopes. One unusual design element is the parallax adjustment is a ring around the elevation turret instead of a side knob, but testers didn’t mind the change. Overall, the Kahles scope is impressive, and since it sells for less than any scope in the top 7, it looks to be a great value as well.

4 Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26x56

That brings us to the most interesting of our scopes, at #4, the Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56. Hensoldt engineers cleary broke the mold with this scope. The Hensoldt scope was an extremist! It was a perennial outlier that found its way to the very top or the very bottom of every list. The Hensoldt 3.5-26×56 was flawless in the mechanical calibration tests, finished 3rd overall in image quality, and has one of the largest zoom ratios of any scope available. Its unique double-turn design makes it virtually impossible to lose track of what revolution you’re on (see a demo video in the Ergonomics Part 2 post). The clicks on the turret were very crisp. But it was also the heaviest scope by far, and the most bulky in this group. And the Hensoldt 3.5-26×56 only comes in one reticle (hope you like it).

5 US Optics ER-25 5-25x58

The US Optics ER-25 5-25×58 came in at #5 with solid all-around performance. It’s the best value among scopes in the $3,000-4,200 price range (most performance per dollar). It was 1 of 3 scopes that performed flawlessly on both the mechanical calibration and reticle cant tests, and it did well optically too. US Optics also offers more reticle choices than any other company, and a lot of other customization features as well that aren’t available through other manufacturers (Cerakote color, illumination color, eyepiece options including one with an internal level, 10+ standard reticle choices or the option for them to build a reticle to your own specifications). You could almost call them a custom scope company. It also has an very useful feature that allows you to make use of more of the elevation travel, which I cover in more detail in Mechanical Performance Part 2. One downside with the US Optics 5-25×58 was that it is 1.6 inches longer than any other scope tested, which makes it feel less maneuverable. Clicks on the EREK turret weren’t as crisp as other scopes in the top 5, although that had no effect on mechanical precision. It also only has numbers marked on the turret for the 1st rotation, and with 11 mils per revolution, it can get confusing what adjustment you’re on during the 2nd and 3rd revolution. The USO 5-25×58 is a great all around scope, purpose-built for extreme range shooting.

6 Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56

The Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25×56 came in at #6, with very well-rounded performance. The Mark 8 performed near-perfect mechanically, and boasted one of the largest zoom ratios (i.e. magnification adjustment ranges) in this group. There are a couple neat features about the Pinch & Turn turret, but overall it felt very mushy compared to the crisp, positive clicks on other scopes in this class. However, the Mark 8 is also available with a ZeroLock turret, which some testers preferred. The Leupold Mark 8 scope performed above average in just about every category and test, which is how it landed at #6.

7 Valdada IOR Recon 4-28x50

Valdada claimed the #7 spot overall with the Valdada IOR RECON Tactical 4-28×50. It features the 2nd largest field of view in this group, and a huge zoom ratio (i.e. magnification adjustment range), which makes it very flexible. The parallax adjustment is a ring on the objective side of the tube instead of the standard side-knob, which some testers found awkward to adjust from prone. It had an absurd amount of elevation travel (38.0 mils total), and the mechanics tracked perfectly both the mechanical calibration and reticle cant tests (only 3 of 18 scopes accomplished that). One major downside is there is only one reticle, but maybe you’ll like it. It was also one of the heaviest scopes in the tests, and featured a proprietary 40mm tube. There are some other innovative features packed into this scope that you can read more about in the Ergonomics Part 3 post.

8 Leupold Mark 6 3-18x44

Leupold claimed two spots in the top 50%, including the compact Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 in the #8 spot. It’s one of the lightest scopes in this group, at almost 1/2 the weight of some of the heavier models. Also, at just under 12” long, it was the most compact of this group. There was a lot to like about the Mark 6, including its near-perfect mechanical calibration. The scope I tested didn’t provide great optical clarity. The ZeroLock turret only provides 20 mils of elevation adjustment, which was the second least of the 18 scopes tested. It was surprising to see how well the compact Leupold Mark 6 could compete with more full-sized scopes. Leupold certainly packed a ton of performance per ounce.

9 Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21x50

The Bushnell Elite Tactical DMR 3.5-21×50 edged into the top 50% at #9. The value this scope provides is shocking, with it outperforming scopes that cost 6 times as much! This scope is very compact, at just 13.3” long, which is one of the shortest of this group. It had generous elevation travel, mechanical calibration was about average, and image quality was just below average. However, when you consider price, Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 offers the most bang for your buck when compared to any scope on this list. It’s a killer value.

10 Nightforce ATACR 5-25x56

Rounding out the top 10, is the Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56. The Nightforce ATACR was ranked as the best value among scopes in the $2,000-3,000 price range (most performance per dollar). It proved to have some impressive glass with a 4th place finish in image quality. It provides a huge amount of elevation travel at 38.4 mils, which was the 2nd largest range in this test. There are only 3 reticles to choose from, but there are some good designs to pick from. The biggest downside is that the Nightforce ATACR is a 2nd Focal Plane design, and most long-range shooters prefer a 1st Focal Plane (FFP) scope. (Note: 80% of scopes in this test were FFP)

11 Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27x56

The biggest surprise in this whole project was the new Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 High Power. I conducted a pre-test vote to see what scope people thought would end up on top, and I personally voted for this one … but I was wrong. The Schmidt and Bender 3-27×56 does provide one of the largest zoom ratios (i.e. wide range of magnification) of this group, but the test scope I had failed to live up to the performance Schmidt and Bender is known for. It performed slightly below average in the optical clarity tests, and had one of the narrowest field of views. Schmidt and Bender requested that I send this scope to them for evaluation, and they found at least one defect that could account for the poor image quality. However, it also didn’t track well mechanically. It was off by a 1/2 click at 5 mils and a full click at 10, 15, and 20 mils, which is hard to compensate for with a correction factor. Perhaps I got a lemon, but at over $6,000, you’d hope those wouldn’t make it to the customer. After extensive hands-on experience with the proven Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56, I’m confident the Schmidt and Bender engineers will work out all the kinks with this newer design, and when they do this scope may jump to the top of the list.

12 Nightforce NXS-5.5-22x50

The Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50 is another scope providing an enormous amount of performance for the price. The Nightforce NXS shocked a few people with its 5th place finish in optical clarity. It had impressive image quality and brightness, even compared to some of these big name scopes with larger objectives. It also tracked well mechanically. A major drawback of the NXS is it’s a 2nd Focal Plane design (80% of scopes in this test were FFP). It did have one of the smallest zoom ratios (i.e. magnification adjustment range) of this group of scopes, which is what you’d expect from an older (but proven) design.

13 Steiner Military 5-25x56mm

Coming in at #13 was the innovative Steiner Military 5-25×56. This scope has a very unique turret design, which completely fixes the problem of accidentally being on the wrong revolution. It had good, but not great, performance mechanically and optically. The Steiner 5-25×56 scope only has two reticle choices, but one of them is the very popular MSR reticle. The MSR reticle is the most popular reticle about top precision rifle shooters (see the data) … so you might just need one. It was a well-rounded scope, rarely at the bottom of any list. This scope felt like it was built like a tank, but it’s worth mentioning that Steiner includes an exceptional “no questions asked” warranty.

14 Vortex Razor HD 5-20x50

The Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 landed at #14. It features the most elevation travel of any scope, at just over 40 mils. If you need more than that, you’re probably launching missiles! Yet it had one of the narrowest field of views, and smallest zoom ratios (i.e. range of magnification). The Vortex Razor HD had 1.1% of mechanical error, although Vortex did say they would gladly repair any scope that a customer found having that much error. Vortex does provide one of the most absurdly generous warranties in the business, as well as the fastest turnaround-time.

15 Valdada IOR 3.5-18x50

At #15 is the Valdada IOR 3.5-18×50. It had good optical clarity, finishing in the middle of the pack, but above some names like Schmidt and Bender, Kahles, March, and Leupold. Its mechanical calibration was about average, with an average error of 0.5%. The Valdada 3.5-18×50 only provides 20 mils of elevation travel, which was one of the weakest of this group (especially compared to the Valdada 4-28×50, which had almost double that). One major downside is there is only one reticle, and unfortunately, some testers didn’t like it.

16 Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30x50

The Bushnell Elite Tactical XRS 4.5-30×50 ended up at the #16 spot. The scope I tested performed poorly in the optical clarity tests, finishing dead last (keep in mind I only had one scope to test). In the grand scheme of things, all of these scopes are 8s, 9s, and 10s in terms of optical clarity. So just because it was the worse of this group, doesn’t mean that it is a disaster. It performed identical to the Schmidt and Bender 3-27×56 in the mechanical calibration test, but unfortunately that meant it had 0.8% of error. That isn’t a train wreck, but isn’t good either. The Bushnell Elite Tactical 4.5-30×50 scope provides 20 mils of elevation travel, which was one of the smallest. You only have 3 reticle choices on this scope, but all 3 are great ones, including the G2DMR reticle designed by GAP and the two most popular Horus reticles, so you’re likely to find one you like.

17 March Tactical 3-24x42-FFP

The March Scopes representative in these tests, the March Tactical 3-24×42 FFP, had underwhelming performance mechanically, which was the main cause of it dropping to #17. I tested two different scopes (one MOA, one mil), and they both had over 2% error mechanically. When this was published, it triggered other shooters to test their March Scopes, and multiple people have said their scope performed virtually identical to my results. I believe the March scope is the only one of this group that uses mils based on the NATO standard (1/6400), instead of true mathematical mils (1/6284) (learn about mil standards). The March Scope also failed to impress optically, finishing towards the bottom of the list in image quality. It had one of the narrowest field of views. There are limited reticle choices, although some testers liked the designs. On the upside, it provides the largest zoom ratio (i.e. magnification range) of all the scopes in this list, and was the most lightweight. March is an innovative company, and they’re currently working on scopes with 10x zoom ratios (e.g. 5-50x), but I’m hoping they address the issues that seem to be present in their current line.

18 Zeiss Victory Diavari-6-24x56

Rounding out our list is the Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56 at #18. It was a heartbreaker. I started by testing optical clarity, and there wasn’t a single scope better than the Zeiss. It was #1 in terms of image quality. When I first took it out the box and glanced through it … I knew it’d be a contender. But it was all downhill from there. First, it’s a SFP scope and most shooters prefer a FFP scope when given the choice (80% of scopes in this test were FFP). The Zeiss Victory scope had one of the smallest zoom ratios of this group. For a long-range scope, it was definitely lacking in elevation travel, with the equivalent of 16 mils overall. That is almost half what the average was for the other 17 scopes. The units on the turret were ¼” clicks at 100 yards (i.e. Shooter’s MOA), but it had a mildot reticle, and those mixed units can make adjustments and corrections confusing. Zeiss’s target audience is hunters, but this scope is so close to a tactical scope. They nailed the hard part by providing A+ glass, but several simple design issues may keep tactical shooters from seeing Zeiss Victory Diavari 6-24×56 as a viable option. In the future, I hope Zeiss decides to serve the growing world of long-range, tactical shooting, and they address some of the design issues with a new line of scopes. If they did, they could become a serious competitor very quickly.

Go Deeper

Some writers publish watered-down results by simply providing a summarized A, B, C rating. It’s like they don’t think we’re smart enough to interpret the data for ourselves (or perhaps their results aren’t based on data at all). I have a very different approach, and am committed to 100% transparency. I’ve already posted the detailed scores and breakdown in each area, as well as all of the underlying data.

So before anyone throws a fit about this not being the “right” breakdown … remember, I’ve published the details for every single piece of data this is based on, so feel free to calculate your own score based on whatever factors you’d like. I feel like this is a great scoring system, and provides a high-level overview for the guys who aren’t interested in diving into the details.

If you are a detailed guy, here are links to the scores and summary pages for each of the areas:

Best Rifle Scope For The Money

The overall score was purely based on performance, acting like all scopes cost the same amount … but we all know that isn’t the case. Here is the breakdown of the price ranges of each scope, including the model that I tested. The chart is in the order of overall finish, with #1 on top and #18 at the bottom. (Note: Scopes with the same magnification range and objective size within the same basic line of scopes were considered the same model.)

Rifle Scope Street Price By Rank

So now let’s compare prices and to the overall score. The chart below shows the average street price alongside the overall score. Where you see a blue line towering above the green line, that pattern screams value. It indicates the scope scored very well in my benchmark compared to its price point. Likewise, when the blue and green lines are near each other, the scope is less of a value. If the green line is well above the blue line, that means the scope didn’t perform as well as it might should have with respect to its price.

Best Tactical Scopes

If nothing else, this visualization makes it clear that there are a lot of remarkable scopes out there for the money. Manufacturers are aggressively competing in this space, and as a result, they’re turning out incredible products. No one could have anticipated the giant leap we’ve made in optics over the past 20 years!

The chart below shows another way to visualize performance and price by looking at the price you pay per point of performance. It is essentially what each point cost in US dollars. It’s grouped in bands of prices, and each group is sorted with the highest value (i.e. the lowest price per point) on top. This chart also helps you see the diminishing rate of return as you move up in price, which simply means it costs substantially more dollars for incremental increases in performance.

Best Scope For The Money

Conclusions

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all “right” answer for which scope you should buy. It is highly dependent both how you plan to use it and your discretionary income. The decision comes down to striking the right balance between multiple competing characteristics such as design, features, performance, and price all with respect to your intended use.

Like I mentioned before, I spent 400+ hours on this project simply to help fellow shooters who were in my same shoes … trying to decide which scope to invest in. When you’re dropping this much money on a scope, you want to make the right decision, so I hope this field test armed you with some good data so you can make an informed decision.

I’m also hoping promote transparent, data-driven product comparisons like this one, and possibly inspire others to apply this same approach to other areas. It’s certainly a lot of work, but I’m hoping it catches on. I realize some of these results have been controversial, but I saw one forum member who said “in the end I think a measure of good scope or the accepted level from end user has just gone up one step.” I couldn’t agree more. These types of data-driven comparisons will move the industry forward, and we’ll all benefit from it.

If you’ve found this info helpful, please share it on Facebook, your favorite forum, or tell other shooters next time you’re at the range.

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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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176 comments

  1. You hit the mark with the BEST SCOPE FOR THE MONEY graphs! Great work overall- but it is nice to see that you can get a great scope WITH great value.
    Thank you for all the work you have done! I know that I will use this info in buying my next scope 🙂 !!!!!!!

    • Thanks, man. For most of the posts, I tried to have an objective focus on measurable performance … but ultimately, price is a big factor for all of us. So I definitely wanted to slice the data a few different ways with respect to price, and give people insight into what is the best scope for the money. Thanks again for the encouragement. Glad you found it helpful.

  2. Great review! One of the fairest and most detailed reviews on High End Tactical scopes. Thanks for all your work producing a great very readable set of articles.

  3. I’ve followed this test excitedly since it was announced; and boy did you deliver! The data driven approach used is fantastic. It lets me adjust the weighting scale based on my personal preferences and rank the scopes using my own priorities. Simply outstanding work?

    Any chance of a sub-$1500 tactical scope test in the future?

  4. Thank you for putting in all this time for such an incredible review! This is by far the most definitive review out there. I’m sure the entire industry will take note and make some much needed improvements.

  5. in Afganistán

    over 1000 rounds in a caliber 50 and never failed the Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25 × 56

    a friend shot over 800 rounds with 20mm Vulcan and never never failed the Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25 × 56

    Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25 × 56 is the best

    • Wow, thanks for the boots-on-the-ground report! And on a 50 cal! If you think about it, it’s crazy any optics can withstand the massive amount of force from the recoil of a 50 cal. That certainly speaks louder than anything these tests could say.

      The Schmidt and Bender 5-25x56mm certainly has a proven track record in the field. It’s an outstanding product. Thanks for taking the time to provide your input, and your service.

    • You sir explained everything there is to explain in the test.. Anyone giving you a hard time is not very open minded. There is no excuse for a company to release a $7,000 scope that can track on par or worst than a $1,200 Bushnell and not even have noticeably better glass,.. just to name 1 example,.. and you’re spot on with absolutely everything you have said,… no need for you to have to explain yourself to others who don’t like what they see or hear. This was a REAL WORLD test and speaks for itself. If a manufacturer makes 100 scopes and 1 or 2 of them are below par, and you happen to get those sub-par scopes for your test, then this is FAIR and JUST, and maybe now some of these manufacturers will pay more attention to quality control. I would HATE to be the person who works their ass off to the bone at a factory, then buy a expensive scope only to find out they got less then someone else for the same money. Sometimes life is not fair but this test certainly was.

      • Hey, Zero. Glad you found it helpful. Anytime you do anything significant, you can expect criticism. It’s human nature. But I appreciate the encouragement.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  6. Thanks Cal for the final report in an epic scope of work (pun intended).

    As discussed in the lead up, you have certainly set up a solid work program for yourself into the future! There are a couple issues to be resolved regarding the MIL standard – and all my research and discussions to date indicate that NATO militaries use the 6400 scale (proof question – what is your compass graduations?) so what are manufacturers using (and why)? I think this scale issue is both a strength and a weakness of the testing and will no doubt be the subject of more discussions into the future.

    I think repeatability needs to be stressed more as an important factor for consideration. Are all my click values the same (be they 6238 or 6400 or elephant dandruff).

    And finally, the scope line up picture at the top – both Scope 5 and Scope 7 just look out of place and would intuitively score lower in a number of tests.

    Looking forward to reading more in the future.

    • I’ve contacted all the manufacturers on the mil issue. They all use true mathematical mils (6238), except March. A distributor for March said he thought they used 6400, but we could not get Deon (the actual manufacturer) to confirm or deny that claim. Either way, I tested both a MOA and a mil March scope, and they BOTH had over 2% error … So it’s not an issue with which they are using (at least not completely).

      And you might expect those compact scopes to not do as well, except the Leupold Mark 6 actually finished #8. That’s pretty amazing for the size.

      Thanks for the comments!

  7. I have to express my thanks for your doing this, and my admiration for your thoroughness considering the depth and breadth of the testing. Having done a smaller and less ambitious set of tests myself, I understand at least a little of the work that it takes to bring something from an idea, execute the testing, pour through the numbers, decide how to weigh them, and to make it all accessible to the casual reader. Add in the fact that this is information that someone could very well be paying you to do, that you understand the importance of avoiding conflict of interest in remaining unbiased, make your work over the past few months very impressive.

    I’m glad you persevered through to the end. I hope it was worth it to you.

    • Yeah, I think it was. I can’t say it wasn’t fun, at least at times. I committed to doing it, so I knew I’d see it through. I might not do it again, but we’ll see.

      Thanks for the encouragement! Really my reward in this is knowing it is helping people, so thanks for sharing.

  8. I have to express my thanks for your doing this, and my admiration for your thoroughness considering the depth and breadth of the testing. Having done a smaller and less ambitious set of tests myself, I understand at least a little of the work that it takes to bring something from an idea, execute the testing, pour through the numbers, decide how to weigh them, and to make it all accessible to the casual reader. Add in the fact that this is information that someone could very well be paying you to do, and that you understand the importance of avoiding conflict of interest in remaining unbiased, make your work over the past few months very impressive.

    I’m glad you persevered through to the end. I hope it was worth it to you.

  9. As an engineer and shooter I can appreciate the volume and quality of work that you have accomplished. Thanks for this series, as well as all of the other information on your blog. Looking forward to whatever you have in mind next!

  10. You do realize that the Zeiss Victory FL Diavari 6-24×56 is available with mil turrets ?

    • Sorry it took me so long to respond to this. I immediately started checking into this as soon as you sent it, because I was afraid I had made a mistake. After looking at info in a few different places, I was confused about what they offered. So I wanted to get the definitive answer from Zeiss before replying. After talking with the Marketing/PR Manager at Zeiss about this in detail, he was confident that they only offer this scope with 1/4″ clicks at this point. He said they used to offer it in metric units, but that has been discontinued. Their documentation around that definitely isn’t clear, but he was sure that was the case. Thanks for the comments.

  11. Reblogged this on Longrangedesign's Update and commented:
    Now, finally the result is here from this huge test of tactical scopes!

    Me, I’m thinking of testing out one or two of these tested scopes during this year of competitions!

    A big thanks to you guys over at precisionrifleblog.com making this test come thru !

    To all of you others, much fun reading the testa!

  12. Your report was the most thorough and complete scope test that I have ever seen. I want you to know I appreciate the work you put into it. I was wondering if you got any feedback from any of the manufacturers?

    • Thanks, Colin. I’ve been in contact with most manufacturers thoughout the entire test. In fact, the engineering teams from a few of them helped me formulate the tests I was going to run during the peer-review process. At this point, I’ve worked with many optics companies and have to say I’m thoroughly impressed with how much most of these guys just want to improve and turn out better products. Many of the engineers love shooting as much as we do, and they were refreshingly open to feedback. Now that doesn’t mean all of them are that way, but more than I expected.

      The only manufacturer I haven’t been talking to is March (aka Deon). They’re in Japan, and although I’ve been talking to distributors … I have yet to get them to return an email. I’ve even asked some major distributors of March Scopes to reach out to them on my behalf, and still haven’t heard a thing.

  13. Wow, this report has the goods and presents like EdwardTufte.

    • Ha! I’ll take that compliment. I don’t know if I’m on par with Edward Tufte, but I can appreciate good data visualization. I’m personally a huge Stephen Few fan.

  14. What a detailed and simply amazing test you guys done! Im amazed how bad March did. This test will sway a lot of peoples purchase on their next rifle scope. I own all Nightforce, but did buy my first FFP scope. Its a Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50. I totally agree about the glass quality. Its awful! Besides that is functions perfectly. If it had better glass it would be a great scope. The only thing I disagree about your test is how you took points away from the second focal plane scopes. Thats simply what they are. Its not a flaw like bad glass, not true adjustments or ergonomics. If you wouldnt of took the points away from the Nightforce NXS and ATACR for not being FFP they both would of been in the top 7 or maybe even 5. Im fine with SFP reticles. But again this test does have the word “TACTICAL” in it. So I could agree why you took points away from the SFP scopes, but I still dont think its a “FLAW” like the rest of the reasons why points are taken away during these test. Great job!!!!!!

    • Hey Jerod, I totally hear you. I personally own both FFP and SFP scopes. That is a dealbreaker to some guys, and others (like you) might prefer SFP. That was one of those features I went back and forth on, but after thinking about it and getting input from other shooters … we decided the overall benchmark of a tactical scope should account for it somehow. One of the big things about a tactical scope is it has a tactical/milling reticle, and with a SFP scope you’re just limited on what magnifications those marks are valid at. So after talking it over, the majority of tactical shooters thought it was a feature that should be weighted.

      But then again, this is exactly why I didn’t just provide the overall scores … but also took a lot of time and energy to publish all the sub-scores and even the raw data, which like you said, allows you to calculate your own scores if you don’t agree with how stuff is weighted. It sounds like you did that, which I appreciate. Thanks for the comments!

  15. Scoring them all just by Optical, Mechanical and Ergonomics. Not adding the advance features which are more of preference it goes like this.

    1 Hensoldt
    2 Valdada 4-28×50
    3 S&B 5-25 and NF ATACR
    4 NF BEAST
    5 Kahles and NF NXS

    • Hey Jerod, I totally understand what you’re saying … but your ranking was off slightly. It was a very close race if you ignore Advanced Features, so I wanted to show it with a little more score precision. Here’s how it shakes out:

      I feel ignoring what reticle choices a scope offers is a little short-sided. When I conducted the survey of 700+ shooters, more than a couple guys said the reticle was the MOST important feature. That was mostly guys who hold for elevation and windage (by using a gridded Horus-style reticle), but I don’t use one of those (yet) and I think reticle is a critical feature too.

      I do get what you’re saying about some of the advanced features being personal preference, but if you go down that path … isn’t the Ergonomics stuff all personal preference too? Some guys don’t mind a big, heavy scope … right? Or they might not care if the numbers on the turret are super-small. The experience using the scope (i.e. ergonomics) is also a very subjective matter. And although I’ve tried to have a well-round objective approach to a highly subjective subject (and I think I did quite well) … here is what the top half would have been if you just look at Mechanical and Optical Performance:

  16. AWESOME WORK!!! Another vote/request for sub $1500 scope testing! I know it would be greatly appreciated by many. You belong in the “Longrange Precision Shooting Community” Hall of Fame. …What, it could be a real thing!?! 😉

  17. Cal,

    Great write up and it’s good to see a more objective approach to testing these things.

    Of course, you’ve now stirred up s Hornets nest of controversy by claiming 2% error with the March scopes tested.

    I think it would be really easy to draw up a test target graduated in 1/6400 based Mils and check the results then.

    If that results in the ‘error’ in the March disappearing, then I think the true conclusion (surprisingly, given the competition) is that the March is likely to be a giant killer.

    Also, why the 3-24×42 FFP ? Considering the competition, I would have thought the 5-40×56 FFP with 0.1Mil clicks would have been ideal. The larger objective would very likely do a lot for resolving power and field of view.

    At the very least, the 3-24×52 FFP would have been a better choice in this company.

    Hopefully you get a chance to retest and reconfirm the data for the March because that one test took it from hero to zero. If you ran the same test using a test target calibrated in 1/6400, all the other scopes would have a similar error and would appear ‘worthless’.

    BTW, I have no brand loyalty and cost is not an issue. I buy whatever fits my needs. I use March, Nightforce, Swarovski and Leupold. I haven’t yet bought S&B or Premier or Hensholdt as these don’t fit my needs (yet).

    Regards
    Steve

    • Steve, thanks for the kind words and you bring up a lot of good points. I’m not sure I can address all of them, but I’ll give it my best shot.

      First, I’m not “claiming 2% error” … I measured a 2.2% error on an MOA-based March scope, and measured a 2.7% error on a mil-based March scope. The difference between claiming and measuring may seem like I’m quibbling over semantics, but its deeper than that. I’m very intentional about presenting my findings, the hard data, and not inserting claims or personal opinions. I hope that is what is different about my website than some of the other sources out there, so you’ll have to forgive me, but I’m just ultra-sensitive on that topic.

      Second, you can actually calculate the difference between 1/6400 and 1/6283. It’s 1.862%, which can’t completely account for the 2.7% error found on the mil-based scope. But more importantly, the 6283 vs 6400 argument completely ignores the 2.2% error I found on the first scope I tested, which had 1/4 MOA clicks (not mrad). While there are some differing standards regarding mils (i.e. true mathematical value of 1/6283, or the NATO standard of 1/6400), there is no such controversy related to Minute of Angle (MOA), and the MOA scope didn’t perform well mechanically either (which what triggered me requesting another scope to test).

      Third, I went with the March 3-24×42 FFP really because it was the only March scope I could get. I spent at least 4 times more energy and time trying to secure a March scope for this test than any other scope. I put a lot of effort into it, and had to contact several different companies. Eventually Jim Kelbly of Kelbly.com was kind enough to send me one, but he didn’t have much inventory to offer at the time. I was really, really trying to get a 3-24×52 FFP, but after many conversations we had to settle on the best option he could offer in that moment, which was the March 3-24×42 FFP. He didn’t even have a mil version of it … which is why he had to send the less-popular MOA version. Later when he sent me a second scope, I got the impression that he may have had to take it off a rifle to be able to send it to me (although I don’t know that for sure). I actually had to push the entire field test 3 weeks as I waited on the March scope, but I wanted to do that because I thought it would be better to have a March scope represented among the group, even if it wasn’t the ideal model I would’ve picked if I were given the choice.

      Ultimately, you can blame Deon, the Japanese company that makes March Scopes, for me having to use a March 3-24×42 FFP for this test. They are the only company that still has not responded to one of my many emails or contact attempts. I even asked another large distributor of March Scopes to try to contact them on my behalf, and he couldn’t even get a response from them. I’m just thankful they have good people like Jim Kelbly representing them, or they would’ve been excluded all together.

      I do appreciate your questions, and I understand you aren’t just being argumentative or dogmatic in your view of March. I’m the same way. My personal rifles are topped with Nikon, Leupold, Nightforce, and Schmidt & Bender scopes. Some of the shooters I know become fanboys of one brand or another, but that isn’t me. I’ll use whatever I feel is the best tool for the job (i.e. pair the scope with the rifle and intended use).

      There are world-class shooters setting records with March Scopes mounted on their rifles, so they obviously aren’t a train wreck. But, keep in mind a lot of their popularity comes from the benchrest world, where you get sighters and you’re shooting for group size. The fact is, the requirements and priorities for benchrest shooters are different than tactical shooters. Benchrest shooters simply don’t require the same level of precise mechanical clicks that tactical shooters do. They may have a higher requirement that the scope’s POA doesn’t change under recoil In competitions, but if 10 mils is really 9.8 … they’d just dial another 2 clicks after they saw their sighter was off, and there is no real consequence to that mechanical error on the scoreboard. In tactical matches, you typically only get one shot at each target … no sighters. So my tolerance for mechanical error is very low, and actually close to 0% at this higher price point.

      Hope this makes sense. As I mentioned in the post, I’m not out to get anybody here … including March. I’m just trying to present the data I collected, and allow you as the reader to draw conclusions.

      • Sorry Cal, your comments about March and bench rest shooting don’t add up. As someone who does both you are way off the mark concerning the requirements for the level of precision needed in both disciplines. The reality is that BR drives the accuracy requirements of other disciplines. If you were competing in Tactical in the 90s you would understand that because what we are doing now was mostly achieved through the hard work and dedication of the BR crowd.

        What is starting to become evident as a result of the great equipment on the market today is that shooters expect a perfect result from precision equipment but regularly fail to factor in their ability to use it. March scopes are great but they need to be set up for the individual shooter – and each shooter is different. Spend that 10 minutes understanding how to use a precision instrument and issues don’t exist. Then shoot it regular and often and record your results.

        Separately, I have still got issues with the repeatability of some of your tests. I am not getting the same results. I think there are far too many variables in some of your tests and that lab testing with optical test equipment is the only valid measure.

        Keep up the good work!

      • You’re right. I don’t have a clue about the benchrest game. That was just a theory that seemed plausible, and I probably shouldn’t have thrown it out there. I did talk with Benchrest Hall of Famer, Cecil Tucker, when I was in the planning phase of this test. I spent hours at his shop, and it was a really enjoyable conversation. He’s one of those guys that has forgotten more about rifles than I’ll ever know. But I didn’t talk to him about this specific matter. I honestly defer to your expertise on what type of accuracy benchrest shooters require, because I don’t know.
        Now, I’m not going to concede that the scope wasn’t setup correctly. Here is a quote from bward, a well-respected shooter on Sniper’s Hide, in response to the March Scope mechanical results I published:

        They over dial. I know of 3 other very well known shooters who’ve tested with the same result. They are consistent, but a design flaw that they admit to. I spoke to Jim [Kelbly] on Monday, and he confirmed it was a flaw they just discovered. I’ll run a correction factor and go on until they come out with a resolution.

        I’ve also personally heard from 2 other people who said the tracking on their March scope matched my results as well.
        And as far as repeatability on some of the other scopes, here is another quote from bward on some of the other results:

        “I am friends with 2 other shooter’s who have seen the same margin of error in March scopes they had. I just bought a 5-40×56 to try out, and am curious to see how it will do. If it is off I will just return it.
        Another thing I was pleased to see is that the USO was perfect. Many people on here claim they have tracking problems, but out the 5 I had them make for me with a custom reticle all 5 have been spot on. I have tested all of them just like in this test, and all were 100% perfect. I think in the past there may have been issues, but they have their design and testing correct now.
        Overall all of the scopes, other than the March, were very acceptable based on my analysis of the results. Setting up a correction small correction factor is easy.”

        I do know lab tests would be more definitive, but the tracking tests were VERY straight-forward. The calibration target was printed by a drafting company for this purpose, was at exactly 100.000 yards (plus or minus 1mm), and completely perpendicular and plumb. If a scope can’t track under those conditions, I don’t want it on my rifle.
        Abraham Lincoln did say you can’t trust everything you read on the internet, so I can appreciate someone who questions what they read. I do appreciate the courteous and constructive way you’ve framed your concerns. Ultimately, I don’t want to get in a back and forth over this stuff. I do hope there was something helpful you took away from this test. Best of luck to you, and thanks for the comments.

  18. Cal, thank you for this masterful piece of work! I have two questions regarding the Nightforce NXS. First, if all things stayed the same and the NXS would have been a FFP, how would that have changed the advanced feature score? Second, would the 56mm model have added any additional points in the optics score? I know you would have to do some guessing, but was just wondering what your opinion would be. I own the 5.5x22x56mm model and in my use the SFP really does not bother me in long range hunting, but an FFP might really interest me. I was just pleasantly surprised at the NXS rank in bang for the buck. Once again thanks for all the work, from one West Texan in the panhandle to another West Texan. He, he, he, gotta love our wind!!

    • If you discount the FFP score, then the Nightforce NXS, Nightforce ATACR, and Zeiss Victory scopes would have had Advanced Scores that were 20 points higher. However, that would only translate to a boost in Overall Score of 3 points (advanced features were only 15% of the overall score, so 20 x 15% = 3). So if you ignore the FFP vs SFP part of the test, it would’ve bumped the ATACR from #10 to #5, the NXS from #12 to #10, and the Zeiss from #18 to #17.

      Theoretically, a larger objective will result in higher resolution.

      A telescope’s light-gathering power and angular resolution are both directly related to the diameter of its objective lens or mirror. The larger the objective, the dimmer the object it can view and the more detail it can resolve. – Wikipedia entry on Objective (Optics)

      A 56mm objective has 25% more surface area than a 50mm, so the resolution difference may be noticeable … but I’m not sure. I personally own a Nightforce NXS 5.5-22×50 (it’s on my custom 7mm Rem Mag that I use for long-range hunting), so that is why I used that one in the field test. I have looked through a 5.5-22×50 and 5.5-22×56 side-by-side, and to my eyes it was very difficult to tell a difference except in very low light. But, that was not any type of scientific test. I was laying down behind two rifles looking down an alley at sunset. Neighbors love that sort of thing! I do love my NXS 5.5-22×50 … and I was pleased to see how it stacked up.

      • Cal, to dredge up an old but phenomenal topic with your great test from last year, I see now that Nightforce offers the ATACR Mil-R F1, giving it the FFP that you find in the BEAST. I can’t perfectly extrapolate how that would affect it’s Advanced Features score, and I didn’t go look at all the other players involved for their updates, but it seems to me that might make a major update to the scoring and bringing a very valuable scope for price to features. Am I tracking that estimate about right?

      • Well, the Advanced Features only accounted for 15% of the overall score, and FFP only accounted for 20% within that … so 0.15 * 0.20 = 0.03. That means it being FFP would have theoretically boosted it’s overall 3 points. That’s not much. But, honestly the overall score is just to help you generalize the results. If FFP is really important to you … get the FFP scope. I’d tell you that is the one I’d buy if I were dead-set on an ATACR.

        BUT, that 3 point increase assumes it’d perform identically on the other tests, and that is a big assumption. To go from a SFP to a FFP scope, you likely have to make some pretty fundamental changes to optical lens system. That is a big change. I’d say if that’s the case … the results of the 2nd focal plan ATACR may be about as applicable to that new model as the NXS or BEAST results would be. That might be overstated, but I do think it’d be shortsighted to believe all the other performance metrics would be identical. It’s a new scope, with some fundamental differences. Unfortunately, you can’t assume what did or didn’t transfer from the ATACR model I tested. You’d need to test the new scope to know for sure.

        And to answer the next question 😉 … no, I have no plans to test the new model in the near future. I may test another batch of scopes after SHOT Show 2016, but I can’t make any promises about what will be included.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  19. Reblogged this on The Everyday Marksman and commented:
    I don’t have much comment on this. It is simply one of the most thoroughly done scope comparisons I’ve ever seen. The optics I use are most definitely not in the tested price brackets, as I don’t think I would really be taking advantage of the extra features, but the quality and quantity of information is impressive.

  20. I bought the Bushnell ERS 3.5 – 21 (34 mm. tube) which is called the “Elite Tactical” in this test. I wanted the Horus H59 reticle and this is the most scope I could afford with that reticle. Now I see from this test and my own observations that I DID get a lot of scope for the money, just like my Bushnell 10 X 42, 1 Mile ARC range finding binoculars. Bushnell is on a roll with these products.

    BTW, The DMR (tested here) and my ERS differ only in that my newer ERS has a zero stop.

    Thank you for THE most complete and objective rifle scope test I have ever seen. Now that you have the great format keep on using it, say for hunting scopes.

  21. First of all I want to thank you for an amazing test and review. It’s an impressive work you have done, and it’s been an absolute pleasure following your work. Your test has provided knowledge to shooters and hunters in a way never done before. You have made it possible to narrow the search for the next scope into what suits each shooter the best. Very few of us average shooters have the opportunity to test and compare every scope before we buy. So once again, thank you.

    But I still have a couple of questions. Why didn’t you address tunnel effect and edge to edge clarity the same way as you have done with everything else? For hunting purposes it’s quite important. I agree that you never miss a long range shoot because of those reasons. But when you are on your way to your favorite hunting spot, and that big buck jumps out at 50 meters, that scope better be turned down to its lowest power to gain as much field of view as possible. In that case you don’t want a scope that at 5x power that has tunneled all the way from 7,5x like the S&B 5-25. You will most likely miss that shoot.

    The edge to edge clarity is not that important when you know where the target is. But again, when hunting it matters. If you want to panorama the hillside on the other side of a valley in search for that perfect buck, it is eminent that the optic is clear in the edges. If the image is unclear at the edges, it will feel like looking through a fishbowl. That buck will never stand out in the terrain because there is too much going on in the picture.

    My two current favorite scopes are Swarovski Z6I 3-18×50 and Kahles K312. They provide an extreme wide field of view, very reliable clicks and great glass. Well, the Kahles glass is great, but the Swarovski is insanely much better inn every light condition.

    So if you could supply some info about tunnel effect and edge clarity on the tested scopes, I would be extremely thankful.

  22. I really can appreciate all the work that went into this. Thank you, as a long time shooter and optics enthusiast, this really does help in making optics choices. I have always liked Kahles, and your testing proves why they are a great buy.

    However, I fill the Schmidt and Bender 3-27×56 was poorly represented. I fill you got a lemon and should allow a retest on the S&B 3-27×56. I own the S&B 3-27×56 and the 2 of 5-25×56, the NF 5-25×56 Atacr, 5-22×56 NXS. I shoot every weekend with my son 1000yards. I have conducted numerous comparison at the range, the schmidt 3-27×56 was the best. In optical clarity. Low light.. It also did not have any tunneling. I would request that schmidt fix that scope and compare again in all fairness. March was allowed 2 scopes as was the Night force Atacr.

    I was also wondering if you we’re still going to test the sub 1500 rifle scopes. I would like to see how the burris xtr II 5-25×50 rates as well as the swfa 5-20×50.

    Thank you
    Jess

    • Wow, you own a lot of nice scopes! I feel like I may have got a lemon as well on the Schmidt and Bender 3-27×56. If I ever do this again, I may include another one (or two) to see what the results look like. I did send the scope to Schmidt and Bender for repair, and they found some issues with the parallax … but I’m not retesting. That would require a monumental amount of energy, and at this point I’m out. The 2nd Nightforce scope came from Nightforce directly, and the March scope came from Kelbly.com (the US distributor of March scopes) … but the S&B 3-27 came from friends at EuroOptic.com. It was a brand new sealed box out of their retail inventory, and they’re now going to have to sell it as a used scope. Since it is a $7000 scope, I didn’t feel comfortable asking them for a second one (that they’d then have to sell as used).

      At this point, I doubt that I do any large-scale scope tests again … for any price point. The criticism and demands from this test have been significant, even if it is just from a few loud people. If I end up doing something in the future, I’ll strongly consider your recommendations. Those do seem to be outstanding scopes based on what I’ve heard others say. Thanks for the comments.

      • Let me clarify. I really appreciate your work and all the effort towards this project(no one else has put forth the effort you have at testing) Thank you. I was not demanding you retest all scopes just simply the s&b 3-27×56 on the optical clarity. Schmidt did say their was a flaw in the scope. I paid$6,159.00 for mine. But I understand your point.
        As for Kahles 6-24×56, do you know why they are being marked down. I have seen them at 2250 to 2450. Is kahles coming out with a newer scope and trying to clearance the 6-24×56

      • I’m not sure. I actually wasn’t aware they were marked down. That sounds like a deal to me.

        And as for the flaw, from what I understand the parallax indexing was miscalibrared. We never referenced the indexes, because you couldn’t even see them during the optical test. You could adjust them, but not see the indexes. Go back and look at the photos and you’ll see what I mean.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  23. There was a post on the Art of the Rifle Blog recently about this scope test that is worth checking out. Here’s some excerpts:

    […]
    I usually don’t talk about other blogs, but I wanted to comment on the Precision Rifle Blog high end tactical scope test. I associate scope testing primarily with ILya, as he represents the gold standard in rifle glass evaluations. This was a different approach which I think deserves mention.

    Having done my own test, which was much smaller in scale in different in scope, I know how much work goes into not only the testing, but transforming numbers from a spreadsheet that hurts the head to look at to something that a casual reader can look at and easily understand. My test was a huge undertaking for me, and I only tested five scopes. I can only imagine the time, organization, and work that went into evaluating 18 scopes.

    There were a few things about Cal’s test that really stood out to me. Most shooters use a box test to check the accuracy of their turrets, which means that the rifle and ammo dispersion creates a lower confidence level in the precision of the measurement. Cal used a calibrated target with the scope locked into a solid mount. …

    The other things that stood out to me were that he didn’t depend on the manufacturer’s claims with respect to magnification, but found a way to test them each, and therefore could check what the actual zoom ratio was. …

    It can be difficult to speak frankly about a scope that a manufacturer was kind enough to send a sample for testing. In the early stages of my own test I found myself wanting to soften any potential negatives as much as I could. I had to make a concerted effort to show no mercy on the things that bothered me even a little bit. I really appreciate that Cal was able speak so frankly in his evaluations as well. …

    I noticed some discussions of his Cal’s evaluations online that were pretty dismissive. It’s true that sample sizes of one (he had one sample of most of the scopes tested) are unlikely to be as reliable in indicating the stated result as would a larger sample size. It’s pretty easy to be critical from the comfort of a chair. It’s easy to ignore that fact that this is not his job, and that regardless of how reliable the results are, they really are pretty useful and informative, even if only from learning about his methodology of measuring and quantifying the scopes’ characteristics.

    Cal said that he put in over 400 hours in the entire process, and that’s easily believable. When I compare what Cal did versus what I might make the mistake of paying for in a magazine like “Recoil”, it’s pretty amazing that there are people out there who put stuff out there for free just because they were curious about something, decided to make a thorough examination of the matter, and had the ability and willingness to share.

    I don’t know Cal. We have no “mutual blog plugging” agreement. I have no man crush on him. I just like to recognize good work. That’s all. Thanks for reading.
    […]

    View the whole article at http://artoftherifleblog.com/scope-testing/2014/09/scope-testing.html

  24. Street price on Vortex 5-20s just dropped this weekend. Lots of discontinued models at $1400 (these won’t last) and two continuing production with street prices at $1699. That puts them at $21.25 per point. Just as a piece of trivia.

  25. Your research work will be of great use to me and my students, thanks! I have a number of clients that want “the best” and your review will help me advise them, thanks so much! -Shepard Humphries

    • Hey, thanks for the comments, Shepard. I’m glad you found it helpful. Your long-range school up in Jackson Hole looks pretty interesting. Glad I could help.

  26. What exceptional work!! Thank You!! The grumbles are a good sign.

    An important and still understated hidden measure you took was how you accepted the manufacturers finished quality output as the standard, which, you have demonstrated is somewhat unstable compared to the engineering standards ‘intended” by the manufacture. We know this yet how easily we forget this in our world of shiny things in pretty boxes.

    Some readers need to realize a test which evaluates the ability of a manufacturer to produce finished product to a claimed engineered standard is a very different test. A proper statistical design would evaluate scopes from at minimum three batches/runs, and would take measure of 3 to 7 individual scopes per batch, per model of scope being evaluated.

    I appreciated that you didn’t disqualify scopes that were delivered to you mechanical fails; i.e., examples that would distort the findings of the test design. It was good of you to find useable examples of those problem scopes and describe the difficulty encountered.

    Spending money may predict a quality outcome but it will not assure it. You’ve provided us all an articulate example of quality inquiry. This is what engineering is all about. This is what quality is all about. This is what intellectual honesty is all about.

    Quality, Engineering and Intellectual Honesty. Those three competencies coupled to American blood, sweat and tears saved our nation during the 20th Century.

    Thanks for the lesson and the findings.

  27. I have been holding off on glassing several rifles for longer than I care to admit. Thank you for making a virtue of my procrastination!

    Though your contribution to a bunch of strangers on the Internet already towers above most, if you ever feel like engaging in another such epic project, I’ll add my voice to those requesting a sub-$1500 test batch, especially something including one or more of SWFA’s offerings.

    Much gratitude,

    #OREGON HOBO#

  28. Hello,
    I want to thank you for your amazing research.
    Please tell me why Trijicon did not make it into testing.

    • Honestly, you’re the first to mention Trijicon. I didn’t realize they even made scopes in this class. After a quick search, I saw they had a 5-20×50 scope with a mildot reticle for $1550 MSRP (although street price seems to be closer to $1050).

      So that would’ve qualified, but it just isn’t one of the most popular models in this market segment. I’ve never seen anyone use one on a precision rifle, including the top 75 shooters in the PRS at the championship match I was at a couple weeks ago, or any of the other matches or ranges I’ve been to. That doesn’t mean it isn’t a great scope … I have no idea if it is or isn’t. I just had to limit the number of scopes somehow to keep it manageable. At this point, I had a 4 week peer review period for people to suggest scopes (6 months ago) and there have now been around 1/2 a million page views for this field test … and the Trijicon is just now being mentioned. Maybe it’s new, maybe they don’t market to this segment, or maybe guys don’t like it … whatever the reason, it just isn’t popular around the tactical precision rifle crowd, so it wasn’t included in the test.

      • In our market zone, here in Canada, Trijicon is being promoted aggressively. You would think that the way they are presented would indicate that the scopes should perform valiantly. You would think. Discovering real world testing on products such as your thorough and enlightening study has shed some interesting light on a very dimly lit section of the shooter’s market. I salute you for your hard work which is much appreciated and hope to hear again from you soon on testing any products. God bless!

  29. You never mounted any of these scopes on a rifle and fired live ammunition on a target? What if they make pretty monoculars but terrible rifle scopes? How do the adjustments hold up under recoil?

    Amazing volume of data and fastidious methodology not withstanding, a crucial part of the comparison is missing.

  30. Would really love to see you guys put the Vortex 4.5-27 through the same tests as an add on, I’m really interested to see where it would fall in line with your testing. Great job on this, very helpful.

    • Glad you found it helpful. I really wish I could’ve got my hands on one of those for this test. I really tried, but the stars didn’t align. If I do ever test more scopes, I hope to include that one in the group. I know a very competitive shooters in the PRS that are running it, and they seem to like it. It would be cool to see how it compares, because the design seems quite different than the Vortex Razor HD scope that was included here. You really can’t draw any conclusions about how the 4.5-27 would perform based on the results of that older design. Maybe someday, but I’m at least taking a few months off from the scope tests.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  31. Cal,

    Amazing. Nothing in the world is perfect. One of the first things learnt in Engineering is that one can never be 100% confident. But you come close.

    Nay sayers will always be loud. And be happy that you don’t hear much noise from those that are quite satisfied with your research. I’m sure if there was but a whisper from each, you would hear an absolute roar of appreciation.

    Not only can a reader take your results at face value to rank potential purchases. Or even use the raw data to make their own decisions. Moreover, the transparency of your process is the best teaching tool I have found online for the instruction in make and capabilities of a scope.

    I understand the exhaustion. However, I am going to chime in with my greedy request. I do hope you follow through with your curiosity about the Tangent Theta that you expressed before this testing. I have one ordered either way (I’m Canadian…). I’m going to use your tests as a benchmark for it. However, it would be neat to see how it measures up to the rest.

    I’d just find it to be a shame if you came in with dreams and ambitions and felt discouraged away by the grumps.

    • Wow, Yelraek. Thanks for the words of encouragement. That was really well-thought out, and I appreciate your point. I’m also on the edge of my seat to see how the Tangent Theta stacks up. If I ever test another batch of scopes, or even just one scope … it will likely be that one. The president and engineers at Tangent Theta actually spent a lot of time reading through my proposed tests (before I started any of these tests back in March), and then gave me feedback on additional tests, or things I could tweak about the tests I was planning to make them more reliable. Through all that I learned a lot, not the least of which is that those guys at Tangent Theta know what they’re talking about, and they care about the finest details. So I’m really anxious to see what they come up with. The design for the S&B PMII 5-25×56 is over 10 years old at this point … with how fast technology is changing, you have to know something will knock it off the throne at some point. The Tangent Theta might be a worthy challenger … I guess we’ll see.

      I truly appreciate you taking the time to send in the kind words.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Hey Cal,

        A very good friend of mine referred me to your field test upon hearing I was in the market for a quality, extreme range, tactical optic. You helped tip the scales and the purchase has been made. Here’s why:

        It wasn’t just how thorough you were, and it wasn’t simply based on the numerical sequence posted in your summary. It had everything to do with me being able to ‘believe’ your findings were unbiased. That wasn’t found in your data points, but it was found in your responses to comments by other readers of your blog.

        We live in a dynamic world. Prices change, as does the availability of product. What remained constant were certain tangible metrics you keenly defined. Your efforts helped me eliminate five (more expensive) scopes I had on my considerations list, saving me as much as $2,000.00. And … while I’m not sending you cash (grin), I will congratulate you on a job well done!!

        Hope the New Year treats you well and your powder stays dry.

        Chris

      • Thanks, Chris, for your considerate response. Glad to know it helped you find a scope. Thats good enough payment for me!

        Honestly, I just tried to publish all the data and let people draw their own conclusions. Everyone has different priorities and budgets, so I just tried to post what I would find helpful if I was a reader. It’s probably overkill for most people, but there is enough context to help everyone see where the data came from … if they care enough to dive into the details.

        Thanks again for taking the time to pass on the encouragement!

        Cal

  32. Cal,
    THANK YOU for conducting these reviews and tests. I have read through these multiple times as I try to make up my mind on a scope to plan to buy. There just isn’t anything else like your work out there for scopes in this class and it is very good information to have all together for all these different high end scopes.

    I had pretty much decided on an S&B 5-25 until I saw the turret tracking errors. I’m pretty set right now on the MSR reticle (which is going to be a clicker) so i started reading up on the Kahles K 624i and noticed it did not do as well on the optical quality, particularly the resolution and contrast. I’ve read elsewhere (opticstalk forums I believe it was) that there were some problems with the first generation of 624i’s that a couple of the users experienced, for example difficulty focusing on .223 caliber holes at 100 yards. Another user who had seen problems like this also noted chromatic aberration, but when he got his replacement from Kahles, a Generation 2, he said things were better across the board. I’m not 100% sure when Kahles started shipping Gen 2’s though.

    I’m curious – was the 624i you tested an original (gen1) or gen2?

    Thanks.

    • Cal – question about the Kahles K 624i you tested in this set – was it a Gen 2 or not? Gen2 is supposed to fix some resolution/focus and chromatic aberration issues (and a couple others).

      I’m asking because I am strongly considering buying a Gen2 — as long as that isn’t what you tested and still saw problems with.

      Thanks,
      Tackdriver

      • That is a great question. I know it was a brand new scope straight from the guy that represents Kahles in US, so I’m going to guess that was a Gen2. But I sent them an email asking to make sure. I’ll let you know what I find out.

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Thanks Cal, I’ll keep an eye out for word.

        The place I had found this discussion about CA and resolution probs, etc. was in this thread at opticstalk. The link goes to a specfic post in the thread about what they changed in Gen2, but there is some interesting reading prior to this post in the thread, particularly posts by motobie.

        http://www.opticstalk.com/kahles-k624i-vs-everything-else_topic34865_post571955.html#571955

        From this forum topic it was in June 2014 that word came out (in direct link above) about changes they’d be making with Gen2. Wasn’t 100% sure when you did your tests.

        Thanks again

      • I did hear back from Jeff Huber, the head of Kahles US Distribution, and he is actually over in Austria at the Kahles headquarters right now checking out further revisions they’ve made to their optical systems. Here is his response to the question about whether I was testing a Gen 1 or Gen 2:

        The K624i has gone through many changes, and since I have been with Kahles it has changed even more. The term Gen 1 or Gen 2 is really not accurate, but the scope you tested could be considered a Gen 1.5. If we consider this terminology then our current product would be a Gen 2.5, and as of January we will have more improvement to the optical design. The new design and other new optical designs are why I am here again for the 5th time this year, and after testing and comparing this model to or competition I am pleased to say it will truly be the best on the market. – Jeff Huber, Kahles US

        He went on to say “I would have liked to have sent you the newer model to test, but it was no quite ready at the time you needed it so I had to send you an older model.” Hope this helps clear up any confusion. Great question.

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Cal thank you again – especially for the quick follow up and response. To Jeff Huber (if you read this) – thank you also for letting us know. I’ll mark my calendar for January.

  33. Hello Cal,
    One thing that would be very, very interesting would be a survey on who takes the longest to get repairs or service work done. I would guess most people would opt for the scope manufacturer that has a good service department with a reasonable turn around if they only knew who that was.
    How about a poll to see public opinions on a few models ?

    • That’s a great idea. I’m starting to get quite a few readers, and I’ve been considering doing an annual readers pool to ask questions just like that. So great suggestion!

      In an attempt to try to answer your question, I’m going to bet Vortex has the fastest warranty service. I’ve been told by one of their directors that they intentionally overstaff their warranty department so that they can provide a 3-4 day turnaround over 90% of the time. I know Vortex has the best warranty in the business, so is inline with their unique view. They seem to be a different kind of company in a few ways, and warranty is one of the biggest.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  34. Hi Cal,

    Did you ever do the under-$1500 test?
    I gotta tell you, that Busnell seems like a screaming bargain!
    Thanks for all of your work. Might I suggest a 5.56/.223-centric scope run?

    • I haven’t. I’ll definitely post it if/when I do. You can subscribe to receive my posts via email in the toolbar.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  35. The Mark 6 that you sent to Leupold; was it the pinch turret version? Did they send you back the version with the lower/non pinch turrets as the “2nd scope”?

    • Hey Dwayne, that’s a good question … With a complicated answer, but here goes. When I was planning this test I tried to reach out to Leupold several different ways, and never could get anyone to respond to me. So I called in a favor from the guys over at EuroOptic.com, and they sent me a Leupold Mark 6 and Leupold Mark 8. I just asked them to send me whatever their most popular seller was, which was the pinch and turn turret for each model.

      As I started publishing results, it caught the attention of a few execs at Leupold, and I quickly got a phone call from someone over there that was very apologetic about the trouble I had getting in touch with them early on, but they said they’d be willing to help however they could. So when I found the issues with the mechanical clicks on the Leupold Mark 6, I called them up. I didn’t have time to send them the one I had to be repaired, so I just asked them to send me a replacement to test. Because I already had experience with the pinch-and-turn turrets, I asked them to send me the ZeroLock turret. I liked the idea of it because I personally don’t find myself ever needing to lock my turret on anything but zero. Plus that would allow me to give readers more info, because I’d essentially cover the pinch and turn turret on the Leupold Mark 8 and the ZeroLock turret on the Leupold Mark 6.

      So that’s the full backstory on the Mark 6 scopes. I never sent the first one back to Leupold, I returned it to EuroOptic since they were the ones who let me borrow the scope. I didn’t feel comfortable sending off a scope that wasn’t mine.

      Hope this helps!
      Cal

      • Cal… Thx for the reply. So you did have issues with the Euro Optic Mark 6, but had virtually no issues with the Zero Lock Mark 6 that Leupold sent?

      • Yes sir. Honestly, I found the pinch and turn turret very awkward. I strongly preferred the ZeroLock turret, but there may be others that would say exactly the opposite.

  36. I want to thank you for all your hard work on this project. It is very rare to come across a site like yours. Your test was the deciding factor in my recent purchase of the USO ER-25. These companies should all thank you by sending you a free top end optic for Christmas!

    • Thanks, Franz! Glad it was helpful, and that you see the value of my approach. That is an outstanding scope you selected. Honestly, I didn’t have any hands-on experience with USO scopes before these tests and they made a believer out of me!

      I like your suggestion, but I’m not sure most companies see it the same way. I was critical of every single manufacturer in more than one area. In my view, a 100% perfect product is a myth and not even a reasonable goal. You have to make compromises between competing design characteristics and hope consumers agree with you. I feel like these tests show that the majority of these guys do an amazing job.

      But, even the first place S&B was at least a little frustrated with the results, because of where the 3-27 landed. I think I succeeded in pissing off just about everyone! 😉 While that certainly wasn’t my intent, I don’t think I made any Christmas lists!

      But, I’m more concerned about helping readers like you pick a scope than appeasing manufacturers! So it’s good to hear I hit the mark.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  37. Cal: Amazing effort – thank you!
    Re: your earlier reply on S&B 3-27×56 “And as for the flaw, from what I understand the parallax indexing was miscalibrared. We never referenced the indexes, because you couldn’t even see them during the optical test”
    I purchased a S&B 3-27×56 from EuroOptic (great folks to deal with) recently (but before I discovered your blog). Do you have a recommendation as to how I can assess whether I have a “good one” or a defective one like the unit you tested?
    Thanks,
    Ranger

    • With the scope I had, a Schmidt and Bender rep said “I received the 3-27 and as suspected the parallax was out of calibration by a significant amount … As it arrived I could not get parallax free or a clear image beyond 600m.” After they fixed the issue they said “The image at over two miles is now crystal clear.” So it seems like you could dial your parallax knob to infinity and see if you can get a clear, parallax-free image to 1000+ yards.

      On a related note, all my optical clarity tests were at 100 yards … so its unlikely this impacted any of the results I published. I never evaluated optical quality at the distances he said he wasn’t able to achieve a clear image at. Hope this helps!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  38. Very nicely done sir

  39. What would be the best scope for the money to put on my 7mm to shoot a 200in Muley at 250yds?

    • HA! The one on my 7 Mag!

      • Cal

        Truly one of the best reviews I have ever come across, for any product, let alone so difficult as rifle scopes. Very well done indeed!

      • Thanks, David. Glad to hear you appreciate the approach. I have a couple more big projects like this planned for 2015 on other aspects of precision rifles. I’m in the middle of the 1st one right now, and am pretty excited to see the results myself! So stay tuned!

        Thanks,
        Cal

  40. Great piece of work, very helpful in questions I’ve had for awhile. Thank you, keep it up!

  41. Awesome analysis!

  42. Thanks for the very detailed review. Very refreshing not listening to all the “fan boys”.
    I do think you made one small error though in your conclusions on the March 3-24 scope.
    You wrote, “On the upside, it provides the largest zoom ratio (i.e. magnification range) of all the scopes in this list,”, but the Schmidt and Bender PM II is in the list and it’s mag range is 3-27×56.

    • Thanks, Frank. In my tests, the S&B PMII 3-27×56 didn’t measure to have an apparent magnification of 3-27. I measured the max zoom of that scope to be 22.4x. Now, I’ve heard some people question the method I used, but I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t a good measurement of what the user perceives through the scope. The method to test this was pretty straight-forward. There were also about 10 different optical engineers who reviewed my test methods, before I even started the field test. But I just wanted to mention that for full disclosure.

      Here is the chart that shows the calculated zoom ratios, based on my measured zoom:

      Scope Zoom Ratio

      You can read more about this in the Optical Performance Part 2 post.

  43. Got it. Thanks for the clarification and all the hard work. Much appreciated.

  44. This may not be the forum for this, but I would just like to say I wish there were more sites like this one. A novice like me appreciates in depth and unbiased information on subjects that could potentially cost me a lot of money. I’m sort of new to the long range world. My 2nd custom is finally done and I’ve been pulling my hair out on which scope to go with. My blue collar salary won’t permit me to go out and get a S&B fde beauty. I’ve been leaning towards the Bushnell 3.5×21 but I just wasn’t sure. But with my limited research and your detailed information my decision has ultimately been made. It has all the features that I’m looking for and how can you beat the price. Maybe down the line when my skills improve and I’ve saved enough I’ll pull the trigger on a high dollar tube. I’ll stop just say that I enjoy your site and thank you for your indirect help.
    P.S. I’ve read that you won’t take $ from manufacturers, if you ever need any $ I’m sure the shooting community would lend a hand. I know I would.

  45. I’d say that precise turret tracking is by far #1 concern. Second, max elevation and max windage adjustment. Third, I’d say back to zero ability and no cant. Fourth, ability to withstand recoil and durability. Fifth, I’d say optical clarity. Sixth, I’d say reticle. Seventh, field of view.
    That’s how I judge scopes.

    • Awesome. Sounds like you put some thought into this. Isn’t it great that I published all the underlying scores and details? That allows anyone to calculate their own rankings based the specific aspects they think are most important.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  46. Thanks a lot, very deep review it contains all the information i was looking for about scopes.

  47. Just received my S&B 3-27 back from Jerry @ S&B service. Sounds like identical issue you mentioned, observed. I was reported that if it were ti would be a total transformation. So far it has been. Will know more after this weekend. Enjoy your work. Awesome.

    • Wow, thanks for sharing. Hopefully Schmidt and Bender will figure out how to “fix the issue” before the scopes leave the factory. At $7000, customers will probably have a low tolerance for issues. I know I would. But maybe you’re set at this point. That scope has a lot of promise, if they can sort out the flaws. I bet they do. They’re Germans! They didn’t get their reputation by turning out poor products. They’ll figure it out.

      Please give us an update after you’ve had a chance to use it in the field some.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  48. Well, S&B service was certainly correct on the optic being totally different after calibration. I have yet to 100% confirm tracking but at this point it works, and works well. The “focus” of the optic is a non issue at this point. The optic comes together without issue on ocular adjustment and parallax or “focus” as S&B calls it. The eye box for this optic is much tighter than the MK8’s I am used to running. Not near as noticeable since calibration has been conducted, but still noticeable between the two. The clarity and or “color” is much better/brighter on the S&B now. The S&B has it’s own home on the latest build and will be put through the paces on tracking once the barrel sets in. Just about there….

    • Thanks for the update, Wade. Did they just fix an issue with the parallax on your scope? That is what they said they did on the one I had. I can see how that could improve focus, clarity, and other optical qualities … but I’m not sure that would’ve changed how well the scope tracks mechanically. It’s promising to know that it is sharp and crisp after the repair. The S&B rep told me the clarity on the scope I tested was better after they fixed it. I never saw the scope again personally, so I can’t confirm one way or the other … although I can say the Schmidt and Bender rep (Jerry) seemed very honest and trustworthy. He really was a pleasure to deal with (and that is not always the case in this industry).

      I’m anxious to hear your results for mechanical calibration. Be sure to keep us in the loop!

      Thanks,
      Cal

    • Cal:
      Some deja vu on the S&B 3-27:
      I also “just received my S&B 3-27 back from Jerry @ S&B service”.

      Mine did not have have the parallax issue but rather my issue was seeing the LED’s on the reticle (I could not see them even in a dark room). It turns out the LED’s are perfect, operator error (me) just trying unsuccessfully to get my eye lined up inside the eye box in a dark room without a low light target & with added effect of less LED definition in the fine detail of an H59 recticle.

      However, I did pitch Jerry on the entire PRB evaluation, most particularly on my concern “did I pay $2K not to have a true extended zoom range over the S&B 5-25?” He tested my scope for that particular issue (mine was 100% factory spec) & reported that on perfectly functioning scope one can duplicate the condition of having the S&B 3-27 drop in zoom to the 25 level by cranking the diopter setting to the max magnification. Up to this point it was my understanding that adjusting the diopter setting only improves the imagery of the reticle for those of us of advanced years in eyesight & choosing not to wear eyeglasses for shooting. However, he educated me on the fact it has additional effect of reducing the effective maximum zoom range to the degree of diopter magnification one chooses.

      Is it possible that during your exhaustive testing of ALL these scopes that just maybe that one detail might have crept into the testing. If so, I still appreciate & respect all the work you put into the tests & most people I know would have not been able to accomplish such a feat with 100% completion of every single task your performed in your exhaustive test & evaluation process.

      Respectfully,
      Ranger

      • Yeah, Ranger. Jerry (and a few others he’d told that to) asked me about that, and while I can’t be 100% positive (everyone makes mistakes, including me) … I’m fairly confident that wasn’t the case. At this point, it seems like Jerry has talked to enough people about this that I feel like I need to lay out the full case for everyone.

        Jerry was assuming I had the diopter screwed all the way in during the optics tests, because when I shipped the scope to him that was how it was set. I actually did that to all of the scopes while I was measuring their external dimensions for the ergonomics part of the comparison. Some of those scopes can vary by almost an inch in their length when the diopter is screwed all the way out. Since I was comparing their dimensions side-by-side, the most fair way I could think of was to record their minimum length (i.e. the diopter screwed all the way in). That was the last step of my testing, so that is why it is was shipped out like that. I bet if you asked every manufacturer, they all got their scopes back with the ocular diopter adjustment screwed all the way in (if the scope had one, not all did).

        Before I started any of the optical tests (which were the first set of tests I performed with the scopes), I went through each scope and adjusted the ocular diopter adjustment to have a crisp reticle. Here is an excerpt from Riflescope Fundaments by ILya Koshkin on how you should use that setting on a scope:

        On most scopes, the eyepiece contains some sort of a reticle focus adjustment. In picture 1 above, it is the so-called “fast-focus”, which looks like a ring at the very back end of the eyepiece. In picture 2, the whole eye-piece rotates, and the lock ring that keeps in place once adjusted is right behind the magnification ring. Whichever type of the mechanism it is, the function is the same: to make the reticle look as sharp as possible. It is important to remember that the eyepiece focus is NOT for making the image as sharp as possible; it is for focusing the reticle ONLY.

        Then in the issue of SNIPER magazine a few months ago, Todd Hodnett wrote an article that hit on a couple misconceptions regarding scopes, and this is a subject he touched on as well. He said “The ocular adjustment is used to make the reticle crisp. Then we adjust the side parallax, or what I call the target focus.” The ocular adjustment he is referring to is pictured in the article, and I scanned that in and its what is shown below.

        Ocular Diopter Adjustment for Reticle Crispness (Excerpt From Todd Hodnett)

        Now, that wasn’t the very center of the adjustment range for every scope. I actually am not sure where that was for the Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 … I didn’t really care where it was in the adjustment range, I just adjusted to provide as sharp of a reticle as possible. And that is where that adjustment stayed for the duration of the optical tests (all happened over 2 weeks, before I moved on to the other parts of the tests). If that point of crispness was on the high or low side of their ocular adjustment range, it would impact the perceived magnification through the scope … which is what I measured. But that is what the user would experience out in the field, so I feel like it is a fair measurement. It’s certainly plausible that you could adjust the diopter to the extreme end of the range and get an actual magnification closer to the spec … but that is likely not what you would perceive in the field (at least with the scope I had) after you’d properly adjusted the diopter on the scope for your eyes.

        Jerry explained they did find an issue with the scope I tested. He said the “parallax was out of calibration by a significant amount. … As it arrived I could not get parallax free or a clear image beyond 600m. The image at over two miles is now crystal clear.” That is the only issue they found on my test scope. That defect seems irrelevant to my results, because ALL of my optical clarity tests were done at exactly 100 yards. The way I understood it, “out of calibration” meant the indexed numbers on the parallax knob were not even close to the distances indicated. But I never reference those marks on the parallax knob. Each of the testers adjusted the parallax to get as sharp of a target as possible, and because I did blind tests … they actually couldn’t even see the parallax knob. They reached up under the scope v-block I made and could turn the knob, but they weren’t allowed to see the knob. So obviously none of them were turning it to “100” and calling it good, which is the only way the “parallax was out of calibration” issue would have resulted in an error. That is part of the reason I set up the blind tests that way, because I know it’s rare for those indexed marks on the knob to be reliable.

        Once again, I opening admit that it is plausible I made a mistake, because there were a ton of details in this test. But ultimately, the zoom ratio was only weighted as 15% of the optical score, so even if it would’ve tested to have a full 27x of magnification, that would have only increased its optical score by 2.5 points. In terms of optical performance, that would have moved it from 10th place to 9th place. Not much of a difference. Furthermore, the optical score was only weighted as 35% of the overall score. I went back and recalculated all the scores as if it had a full zoom ratio of 9.0 (just 27÷3), and that would have just changed the overall score from a 80.3 to an 80.8. That’s just 1/2 a point! That means the S&B 3-27 would’ve ranked 10th instead of 11th, because it would’ve just barely edged out the Nightforce ATACR at 80.4 points.

        Ultimately, the Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 scope I had still ended up in the bottom half overall … even if you assume I totally screwed the pooch on it’s magnification test. I will remind everyone I didn’t do that test once, but multiple times with a complete tear down and setup in between. In the end, a $7,000 scope ended up in the bottom half and below scopes like Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 that is a fraction of the cost … and I realize that will make some people mad and cause them to call these tests into question. I’m not out to get S&B. Remember, the Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 took 1st place overall! I even personally bought one of those scopes out of my own pocket and after these tests … it’s what I run on my primary rifle! They make some outstanding products, and in my opinion they’re the undisputed king of scopes for the time being. I didn’t try to skew the results for or against anyone. I just posted the results I found in my tests with 100% transparency.

        Ranger, I totally didn’t mean to get on a soap box or blast you for your question … I appreciate you asking about it in a very respectful way. But you aren’t the first one to mention that, so I just thought it was best to lay out the full case for other readers in the future. I really do appreciate your feedback, and since my test only included 1 scope of each model, I am very interested to hear about the results you find with your scope. I did a poll to see what scope people thought would end up on top before I started any of the tests, and I personally voted for the Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 scope. So obviously I think that product holds a lot of promise, and I hope they figure out a way to address the issues that I had and the ones that you had as well.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  49. u get ahold of a gen2 razor yet?

    • No sir. I’m not planning any additional scope tests in the near future, but you can bet that will be included if I do end up doing some additional tests. If I ever test another scope, that Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 FFP and the new Tangent Theta 5-25×56 scope will certainly be part of it.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  50. Great work. Hope to see another one that gives us a few options below 1500/1000/700 in ffp been searching for months and I have more options and questions than answers. That bushnell makes a good argument though. The question now is buy a 700-1500 dollar one and possibly be happy or 3300 on the beast. My issue being a combat vet and expecting flawless function normally is if it doesn’t work perfect every time I get rid of it. I notice a lot of differences in prices for the same exact optioned scopes from site to site and continue to find places that are cheaper is there a go to place?

    • Hey Michael. With people that are as serious about shooting as it sounds like you are, I typically tell them $1200 is the starting point for a good scope. That doesn’t mean you can’t hit something at long-range with a lesser priced scope (I’ve hit targets at 1350 yards with a $500 scope and could probably go further), but they typically have to make so many compromises to get to that price point that you won’t be happy with it long-term. However, I know guys who are in the top 50 shooters in the Precision Rifle Series that are running those $1200-1500 Bushnell scopes. In fact, there were more Bushnell scopes represented among the top 10 shooters this year than any other brand. Take a look at the data:

      http://precisionrifleblog.com/2014/10/24/best-tactical-scopes-what-the-pros-use/

      I’m not saying they’re better, and I think the field test clearly showed that. However, they give you more performance for the price than any other scope. Honestly, I had a lowbrow view of Bushnell until I started doing data-driven field tests. At this point, they obviously established themselves as the highest value in both high-end tactical scopes and rangefinding binoculars. It’s crazy how well they stack up with products that are twice as much!

      The Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 is still the king of scopes, and that was just confirmed again in this test. So if you’re wanting absolutely no compromises … that is your answer. It’s what I personally run after this field test, and I paid for it out of my own pocket. There can’t be a stronger recommendation than that! The BEAST was good, but I don’t love the turret design and height, but of course that is a personal preference.

      Really this comes down to budget, and there isn’t a wrong choice. If you have the money (or discipline to wait and save up) … then go for the top-tier scope. “The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.” One of my friends jokes that his S&B magically makes his bullet fly 50fps faster and all the targets a little bigger. Really, it just makes his shooting experience more enjoyable for him personally, and he’s fortunate to have the discretionary income that allows such a luxury. But if you aren’t in that position, then that is okay too. There are great values for every budget and price point. I do think you fall in that category of guys that would be disappointed with anything below $1200 though.

      I buy stuff from a couple places, but probably purchase stuff like this from EuroOptic.com most often. They typically have the best price, but not always. I know they’ve even gotten in trouble for selling things below MAP (the Minimum Advertised Price set by the manufacturer … aka price fixing), which is a great thing for you and me as consumers, but it makes their competitors mad. They also offer all the higher-end gear I’m interested in, so I don’t have to filter out all the other stuff. For example, although they’re a Bushnell dealer they only offer their Elite Tactical line of scopes (the only one I’d buy) and not all of their entry-level products. Probably the biggest reason I prefer them is because you can call and talk to a real person who knows what they’re talking about. Most of the guys who answer the phone are long-range shooters themselves and have tried a lot of the products first-hand. Their office sits on top of their warehouse so when they say they have it in stock, that’s because they know … they passed it on the way in that morning and can personally go put their hands on the box in just a few seconds.

      I also usually check with Amazon, because I’m an Amazon Prime member and get free 2 day delivery (for items fulfilled by Amazon) … which is pretty sweet. And I use Google Shopping to help me look at all the other little mom and pop websites too. Ultimately, if EuroOptic.com is within $50 … I go with them, because I know they won’t give me a hassle if I need to return it for some reason. I think of that peace of mind kind of like insurance against a bad decision. You can also usually ask them to match the price, and they’re willing to do that. I’d bet they’re the largest scope dealer in terms of revenue, so they can afford to have the Sam Walton strategy: “A little profit over a lot, is still a lot.” You don’t have to maximize profits on every single transaction … but instead commit to just making a little money on each transaction, but try to do a whole lot of them. I like that strategy.

      Hope this helps,
      Cal

    • Update: bought a Leupold mark 4 ER/T 8.5-25 FFP TMR W/M5 turrets. The main reason i would like to know a good quality cheaper ffp is for training on say a “tactical” 17/22 rim fire say out to 550-600 meters you need mid 30 mils of adjustment it to me seems like great practice. The leupold is sitting on my 338 lapua atm but will transfer over to the krg savage 12 im waiting to build, on the wait list for the chassis. Still thinking about the beast or maybe the s&b for the lapua its a savage as well big fan of a modular system i can upgrade anything i want myself and not have to pay big bucks for some “magic smith” to make it shoot better sorry but your 1/4″ moa is still equal to my 1/4″ moa i just build mine and know how it works. A little rant i guess.
      I find it hard to purchase products at msrp i tend to pay 10-12% over cost or i dont shop there and have yet to find a place to do that with anything but leupold got a steal so I got it. I did see the deal on vortex razor but i dont like ricers im all muscle, ill take my 69 roadrunner over good gas mileage.

      • Wow, Michael. Not sure I follow all your comments. But if you’re happy, good for you! The Bushnell is a FFP design at what I think is a reasonable price. FFP scopes are inherently harder to produce because of the number of lenses available for corrective coatings. That adds costs, so cheap FFP scopes might be an oxymoron. A company might have to cut corners places you don’t want them to in order to get to a lower price point than the Bushnell. So I’d just proceed with caution. Just my 2 cents.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  51. Excerpt from one of BigJimFish’s Sniper’s Hide post:

    There are probably a few of you who remember me and are wondering where i have been as i disappeared off the face of the earth sometime around last march. the short answer is that i had a baby and the shooting and optics hobbies got backburnered for the year. i’m now trying to remedy that, and too soon i expect given i am sitting on 3 loaner scopes for review that i have had entirely too long. i expect that the companies who provided them are wondering just what is going on. hopefully, i will have them on their way back to those reps in a couple months.

    While i was procrastinating and re-prioritizing this fall i came across cal zant’s big tactical scope field test.

    cal zant’s tactical scope field test

    If you have not read this you should. his methodology is the best i have yet seen employed and his data is the most objective as a result. his field test also included a full 18 scopes making it the largest i have seen. probably the most important take away from his testing was that, despite the fact that all the scopes in the test were $2k+ in price, some did not track perfectly. Furthermore, the testing raised some questions about the accuracy of manufacturers magnification specifications which, unfortunately, the testing did not satisfactorily answer. I had been thinking for some time of upgrading my testing procedures to eliminate the error introduced by the rifle. Cal’s testing convinced me of the value of this.

    In order to carry out this testing i built what amounts to a much larger, more rigid, and more precise version of the scope photography rig i made a few years ago for the uso scope photography contest and mounted it to my deck. being mounted with three fine threaded adjustment screws, this platform is fully adjustable for elevation, cant, and direction. it includes a picatinny rail for mounting the optic during testing as well as a separate, adjustable, v-mount which should allow for re-centering the adjustments without removing the optic from the rings. the v-mount is also aligned with the rail within mil or two so that if you are on paper with one you should stay there when you switch over. the whole platform is sturdy enough that, when a reasonable amount of force is applied to the optic, deflection is only about .2mils. the apparatus returns immediately to zero when the force is removed. this apparatus will allow for a scope to be mounted, centered, and pointed with great precision at a test target. the scope can then be run through it’s adjustment testing with the tester able to observe the movement of the reticle via the adjustments though the optic itself. this apparatus also has the rigidity and precision necessary to test reticle alignment, movement during power change, and total reticle travel. my hope is to be able to include in this next set of reviews precise testing of adjustment range, and accuracy, zero shift with power change, scope magnification range. reticle cant, and field of view. i am making a second test head, with 5 v-block slots for the optical testing. Cal provided me some of the same test targets he used for his optical testing. I will be using these in addition to some others.

    Scope Testing

    The scopes I currently have are:

    Nightforce SHV 4-14x56mm

    Leupold MK 6 3-18x44mm

    Burris XTR II 4-20x50mm

    and USO LR17 3.2-17x44mm

    I will be writing them up in that order. Hopefully they will all be done by the start of April.

    […]

    Wow, bummed to have missed out on the controversy. I’ll put the whip to the google monkeys to catch up. A few comments:

    -First, thanks for the kind words and well wishes about fatherhood. I appreciate the sentiments.

    -Second, regarding the magnification range testing: I am aware that changing the diopter can have a great effect on the magnification. I may be mistaken but i believe that I can sidestep this as a problem by measuring both ends of the magnification range of the scope at the same diopter setting. What I am really looking to determine is not the absolute magnification of the optic but magnitude of it’s range (max mag/min mag) as the breadth of the optics range is a primary factor in it’s cost. Cal’s article prompted me to consider that it is quite possible for an optics company to overstate this range to inflate price with little chance of repercussions. I’m sure were all aware of a certain optics marketer that we love to rag on and the police love to investigate that we all suspect does this 😉 It may be that more reputable makers fudge the numbers a bit as well. Certainly the temptation is there as the difference between a 4x range and a 5x range is probably 30% more cost.

    -Regarding objective resolution and contrast testing: I have picked up some charts including the ones Cal used as well as an interesting colored one. I am not sure exactly what I will discover using these tools or what statements I will be comfortable making after using them. It is not really my goal to come up with an objective and repeatable test suite for determining relative resolution and contrast. The first reason for this is that I am not sure primarily resolution, but also secondarily contrast, are the most important factors to consider in determining excellence in rifle scope optics especially when these are only measured in the center of the field. It seems to me that size of the field of view, barrel and pincushion distortion, flatness of field, color rendition, chromatic aberration, and eyebox size, are all pretty important as well. All in all I have no faith that, for any kind of reasonable cost, I could devise a way to objectively test rifle scope optics in a way in which I would feel the results were representative enough of the experience to be useful and authoritative. I applaud Cal on his efforts in that regard I believe his methodology was quite good, the best I have seen and probably as good as could be done with reasonable cost constants. Mostly, I just don’t agree with the survey results regarding the importance of center field resolution and contrast. I think that center field contrast is far more important than resolution in a tactical scope and I don’t think that the two of them added together makes for even the better half of the important factors in judging the optics of one scope vs. another. I was quite pleased that Cal broke up his scoring such that I could re-evaluate based on my own predilections in this regard. What you should expect from the optical portion of my testing will be similar to what you have received in the past, a subjective description of the experience of using the optic vs others I have on hand. Hopefully the new charts will allow me to better understand the differences between different optics.

    -Regarding recoil testing and scope performance over time: Durability is probably the number 1 thing people want to know about in a review. It is, unfortunately, also very hard to test. I will go into explaining this a little. The first factor to consider is that you cannot cost effectively test through use because you would be talking about a grand or so for a thousand round recoil test. This really isn’t even a particularly large amount of rounds relative to what one might reasonably consider the lifetime of an optic. I do not re-optic a rifle when it is time to re-barrel and I do not have any rifles that need re-barreling at a paltry thousand rounds. The second factor to consider is that you cannot just bang a rifle scope with a hammer or drop it on the ground and find it’s mean time between failure under normal usage though you may be able to determine it’s fitness for use as a hammer. Rifle scopes are subject to a very particular type of acceleration when under recoil. This acceleration is peculiar in it’s one directionness, and duration. Primarily because of these two factors it is difficult to simulate as most bangs or drops are too great in magnitude and sort in duration and most cyclic shaking has similar acceleration in more than one direction in dramatic acceleration. I have considered the construction of a gravity powered testing device consisting of a vertical track, mounting block, and fall arresting medium such that the acceleration/time curve for the stop at the bottom would be similar in duration, magnitude, and integral, to that of a recoil pulse measured by an accelerometer. This could be done and would be far cheaper than the pneumatic testing machines many scope manufacturers have though it would still be expensive to construct. In the end, it would also only give you data from one particular optic which would do nothing for helping you determine the mean time between failure for a typical rifle scope as one manufacturers defect throws all the data. Though I will probably continue to throw around the idea of this cyclic testing apparatus I think that given the cost in money and time I doubt I will ever make one.

    -Regarding adjustment testing: I believe Cal’s article was the first I have seen which removed the rifle from the testing of scope adjustments. I though this was a tremendous step in the right direction as even the very nice Kimber 82G that I have been using for testing introduces tremendous error into these tests. I was also very pleased to see, in Cal’s article, the first quantification of reticle cant. Canted reticles have been a problem in a number of the scopes that I have used in the past but measurement of the magnitude of this has proven to be difficult. The combination of solid test head and the Horus CATS targets should make this easy enough. It is my intention to utilize methods quite similar to Cal’s in mechanical testing. Though, I intend to go a bit further by testing the adjustments to the full limits of their travel range. I am interested to see if errors will magnify as the erector deviates from the center of the tube as I am not sure the effect optical distortion will have and I am also not sure mathematically if a constant thread pitch is correct for an erector knob though I expect it is used. Hopefully the panoply of zero stop type devices will not make this testing too great a pain in the ass.

    With a little luck I hope to produce something useful and learn some more in the process.

  52. About the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50. Your comments above about the scope describe 20 mils total of elevation travel but the number is actually 30. If you look in the manual, it describes the elevation and windage adjustments as being set to the center at the factory and capable of being adjusted 15 mils (50 MOA) in either direction. I own this scope and can dial the elevation up or down 30 mils.

    • Hey, Paul. I think you may be confusing the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50 with another scope. I’m couldn’t be more confident that the Bushnell XRS 4.5-30×50 scope I tested only had 20.2 mils of total elevation travel. However, the Bushnell 3.5-21×50 had 34.2 mils of total elevation adjustment. You can see exhaustive details of how I measured that in this post: http://precisionrifleblog.com/2014/08/22/tactical-scopes-mechanical-performance-part-2/

      These are both more than what Bushnell advertises for those scopes. On their website, Bushnell clearly says the “Adj Range” for the XRS 4.5-30×50 scope is 50 inches at 100 yards. 1 mil = 3.6 inches at 100 yards. So 50 inches / 3.6 inches per mil = 13.9 mils. So they’re advertising 13.9 mils of adjustment range for that scope, but I measured it (in a very detailed, but straight-forward way) to be 20.2 mils. Here is the product page on their website for that scope:

      http://www.bushnell.com/tactical/rifle-scopes/elite-tactical/xrs-4-5-30x-50mm

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Cal, I’m quite certain which scope I have. Its model ET45305GZ and I purchased it less than a month ago. The spec sheet online is confusing but you can download the manual and verify what I’m saying. With the crosshairs centered in the range of adjustment you have 15 mils up or down from that center. The manual makes that quite clear and it’s what I’ve verified with my scope. What I suspect is that your scope being a T&E was probably handled by someone before you. they set the zero stop to test it and forgot to reset it.

  53. The manual can be downloaded here:

    http://www.bushnell.com/getmedia/8edfcadc-ab36-42ad-b17e-bbad4fa4e5c3/EliteTacticalScopes-2013ZStopModels-1LIM.pdf?ext=.pdf

    Look on page 7, the special note for scopes equipped with Z-lock turrets.

    • I don’t know what to tell you Paul. All I know is the unit I tested allowed 20.2 mils of total elevation adjustment, which is more than what Bushnell advertises. That manual is for the full line of Elite Tactical scopes, and each model varies. So perhaps we aren’t reading that as they intended, or its a misprint, or they updated the model since last year (funny they didn’t update the website), or one of us had an odd scope. The only thing I’m certain of is the XRS 4.5-30×50 I tested was factory new from Bushnell directly and it had EXACTLY 20.2 mils of total elevation adjustment. What happened between there and the manual and your scope is a mystery.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • If you look at the copyright at the end of the manual I linked you to above, it’s dated 2013. The XRS was introduced at Shot 2013 so the 30 mil elevation adjustment range for the XRS has been the spec from the beginning. You can’t go by the specs listed on the Bushnell sight (someone should get a stern talking to for that). Bushnell sold an older 4.5-30×50 30mm scope and the specs for elevation range were the same as they list on the website for the XRS even though the XRS is a 34mm scope. Something smells. What makes me even more certain the zero stop had been engaged somewhere before you received the scope is that when I zeroed my scope at 100yds using a 26″ barreled .308 and 175gr Federal Gold Medal Match the elevation was 10.3 mils up from the bottom. Like I said, I can see someone testing the scope first zeroing it then saying “lets test the zero stop” then forgetting to reset it. It could very well have happened at the factory.

        Anyway, I just wanted to get this out in case others considering this scope were discouraged by the limited adjustment range you measured for it. With these comments they can verify it for themselves. As you point out in another post, 4 top 10 PRS championship shooters used this scope. I can’t imagine they would have chosen it if it were so limited.

  54. Thanks for putting in all the work to make this test a reality Cal. Just curious though, how important was the Nightforce ATACR 5-25×56 being SFP versus most of the rest being FFP? Night force now has the FFP ATACR, so I’m curious as to where it would rate among the rest of the scope lineup (assuming every other aspect is the same between the two). Thanks!!

    • Hey, Adam. I saw that Nightforce came out with that FFP ATACR. That looks like a really great setup. I prefer FFP, but also own SFP scopes. While it primarily comes down to personal preference, I see FFP as more of a convenience thing and not super-critical to overall scope performance. So FFP vs SFP wasn’t heavily weighted in the score. It was grouped under “Advanced Features”, and that whole set of scores only made up 15% of the overall score … and FFP only made up 20% of the underlying score for that group. 15% x 20% = 3% … so if the ATACR would have got full credit for being FFP, then it’s overall score would’ve bumped up by 3 points. There were several scopes clustered right there with similar scores, and that would have bumped it up a few places to score of 83.38. That would’ve landed it in 5th place, right behind the Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56 with 83.41 points.

      Of course that is assuming every other aspect was the same, like you said, and they rarely are. Changing from SFP to FFP is no small design change. I’m not certain, but that may have required them to redesign the the optical lens system. I’ve been told the tolerances for a FFP scope are much higher than a SFP scope, and design is tougher to pull off. So it may be a stretch to assume everything is the same. I bet the optical clarity varies between the two scopes, one way or the other.

      Now all 3 of the Nightforce scopes scored very well in terms of mechanical precision, which the most heavily weighted element. I’d expect the same stellar performance from this new design in terms of mechanics … of course I’m not one to assume something is great until I test it! Hopefully this field test has convinced a few others to test their scopes too.

      Hope this helps!
      Cal

      • Yes, that helps a lot Cal, thanks! From what I understand the ATACR F1 is quite different, heck I think the reticle is even a new adaptation from the SFP Mil-R. From the couple pictures I’ve seen the F1 has 10 or 15 mils of holdover in the reticle vs 5 mils in the SFP Mil-R. Not totally sure on that though… I’m confident that the ATACR F1 or the Beast will be my choice when it comes time to look for a quality optic, just wish NF would do a Christmas tree style Mil-R or MOAR like how Vortex did the EBR-2C.

  55. i’m a little new to this long range thing. great article by the way! my question is it seems that most of these scopes people are using for competition, i want to know what out of these scopes is best suited to hunting set up. i currently have a 2008 z6 swarovski 2.5-15×56 and it has no turrets. i can add a elevation turret for $200 but it will be limited to 4.6 mils of adjustment. i want to shoot out to 800 yards confidently and if i get good out to 1000 yards if need be at whitetails. i’m wondering if i should just sell the scope and get something like the atacr or just add the turret on mine and use that?

    • Hey, Joe. Welcome! It’s exciting that you’re getting into the long-range world. Many of us started out as long-range hunters looking to extend our range, and this stuff is so fun that we wanted to do it outside hunting season too.

      Swarovski makes great products and obviously has top-tier glass … but their reticle selection is terrible for long-range shooting. The lines are starting to blur between the long range hunting and tactical worlds, and they refuse to acknowledge that. I talked to Swaro reps about that in person at SHOT Show and essentially hunting in Europe is a very elitist activity and the tactical crowd is viewed as more of a blue-collar thing … so they refuse to offer tactical reticles to ensure the brand keeps that elite status. That’s unfortunate, because to me that means Swaro will never be considered as a long-range scope. They do have a sister company that specializes in tactical scopes (designed and made in the same factory in Austria) and that company is named Kahles. You can see I included their scope in this test and it did quite well.

      In the long-range world, most shooters dial for elevation and hold for wind. Wind can change very fast. To be able to hold for wind, you need evenly spaced hash marked on the horizontal axis (either in mils or MOA). Swaro does have one reticle with that, but it doesn’t have hash marks in the other direction. Many shooters believe that handicaps your flexibility to engage long-range targets. I personally want a reticle with evenly spaced hash marks on the horizontal and vertical axis. I view that as part of the minimum requirements for a long-range scope.

      I’m not sure what cartridge you’re shooting, but 4.6 mils of adjustment isn’t much. That won’t get a lot of the popular cartridges to 800 yards, but it may some of the flatter shooting magnums. There aren’t many cartridges that can make it to 1000 yards with 4.6 mils of drop or less.

      So if it were me, I’d drop the Swaro, and go with something like the ATACR or others that did well in this test. When hunting, I prefer to have room on the lower side of the magnification side so that I can zoom out really wide in case an animal pops up close. I hate to try to find an animal in my scope in a situation like that. I prefer something around 3x, but that is personal preference.

      For more info on the type of reticle I’m talking about, you can view this post:

      http://precisionrifleblog.com/2013/03/07/best-long-range-scopes-buyers-guide-and-features-to-look-for/

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • i appreciate the response very helpful in a world of too much info sometimes, lol. this would go on my 270WSM that i sight in zero at 300 yards and the 4.6 mils would get me to 800 so that is why i think your right i might be better to ditch the swaro and i’m leaning toward the atacr at this point, but also the khales too is an options for sure. from your data the the atacr did best combined for optical and mechanical nothing else beat it so its probably my top contender. i know then i won’t be compromising on glass really, i’ll have the reticle that can get the job done. only really draw back is i’ll have to kick in a little extra money to make difference up and of course the extra weight. i don’t backpack hunt right now so i’m not that concerned about weight. only thing i guess i’m still deciding on is the FFP or SFP. as it will be for hunting i’m leaning toward SFP. thanks again for the reply!! keep up the great work!

      • No prob, Joe. I will add that there aren’t really any drawbacks to the FFP scope, if it can be illuminated. The only argument for a SFP is that the reticle thickness is consistent (not too heavy or too thin) through the entire magnification range. But if you get a FFP scope with a thin reticle, it is ideal at high magnification and at the lowest magnification the reticle is easily seen when illuminated. So you can easily see it (maybe even better than most SFP reticles) at both high and low magnification. The ATACR is now available in FFP and comes with an illuminated reticle. I’ve owned both FFP and SFP scopes, and at this point … I can’t think of any reason why I’d ever buy another SFP scope (other than the fact that they’re usually cheaper). The primary advantage to a FFP is the hash marks can be used at any magnification (which is VERY helpful), and in my view there aren’t any advantages to a SFP reticle (compared to a FFP with illumination).
        Just something to keep in mind. Didn’t want you to buy a SFP and regret it.
        Thanks,
        Cal

  56. Didn’t the Kahles perform perfectly on mechanical? You awarded it 37 should it have been 40 which is perfect which would had made it closer to the NF Beast.

    Thanks Jess

  57. with N.F.NSX torture testing thats on there web site i feel I’m sold on it if its really true . what more can one ask for from a well build scope . if it can handle that kind of abuse i feel that is the scope to buy. Tracking it also rated well and price is not too bad .

    • Great point, Saul. That is real. I was originally going to do a shock test, and the team at Nightforce encouraged me to do it. But they said be ready, because I’d pop out the lenses on some of the other scopes. Ultimately, I don’t want to ever break something someone let me borrow … it just doesn’t seem right. I can hear my parents, “Always return things better than you found them.” So I struck the shock test. I still wonder what would have happened!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  58. How can I get a job like this? It would be a dream job.

    • Well, it might be a dream job … but the pay isn’t great. I actually do this all volunteer in my spare time. To date, I’ve spent WAAAYYY more on these tests and on the website costs than I’ve made on it. I’m definitely in the red. So I guess that means I pay to do this. It might be hard to feed a family on that! But, the website has attracted a growing number of followers … honestly, more than I ever thought would be interested in this little niche area of practical long-range precision rifles.

      I’ve recently tried to find ways to monetize the website (in a way that isn’t too annoying to my readers, like Google Ads and the Amazon Affiliate Program) in hopes that it at least covers the costs of the tests I conduct, because that has become one of the limiting factors in my ability to do some of the big projects I’ve dreamed up. And also my limited time is also a factor, because I also love to spend time with my family and actually go out an shoot (not just test and write about shooting). I’m a business guy, and I could grow this into a profitable business if that was my goal, but it would be hard to remain 100% independent that way. The problem is the manufacturers the ones with the money to fund something like this, and I’m trying to not get in bed with any particular one of them … so that you and my other readers can trust my content to be unbiased. I think that is a big part of why I’ve attracted such a following … I don’t have stock in what performs the best, I just report on what I find.

      Luckily, I have a job that I love in an unrelated industry and it pays the bills … and I guess funds this venture too. That allows me to have 100% pure motives in this, with the goal to just try to help fellow shooters and only have their long-term best interest at heart.

      If you want to try it, I’d suggest you start a blog and do some objective tests on whatever you can gather up among you and your shooting buddies, and just start publishing it. I had to write for almost 2 years before I had any measurable amount of readers, so the key is just to stick to it. It’s a big commitment. There is a tipping point and once you reach a point of critical mass, it will start to pick up steam. I’d love to see more guys out there take this kind of approach. I think it will help move our industry forward. Best of luck to you!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  59. Congratulations Cal on an absolutely magnificent and thorough test ! Think you have covered everything extremely well. For someone like myself who is in the market for a new scope in this price range, your information is invaluable !
    Thank you very much…Ed ( from Australia )

    • Glad I could help, Ed!

      • Oh … I read $1,500 … missed the “+” sign. 🙁

      • Yeah … sorry, Mako. These are all super-high-end scopes. The Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21 is a great value, and it’s actually on Amazon right now for $1189 … that’s a crazy deal. In fact, I’d guess that was below MAP (Minimum Advertised Price). I’d hop on that if you’re in the market for a high-value scope.

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • 🙂 … I keep inching up. Instead of four medium scopes I should have just bought two or at least one high end scope! My last one: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004NKWCOA?psc=1&redirect=true&ref_=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s02

      • Yes, sir. That is probably the right idea. Lots of guys scoff at the price of these scopes … but if they added up all the mediocre scopes they had on rifles, they’d realize they could have bought one great scope with a quick detach rail that they could move from rifle to rifle. That’s the route I always recommend. But that isn’t to say that those other scopes don’t work for a lot of applications. It’s just if you’re trying to really push to long range, good glass and repeatable mechanics can sure help. It’s hard to provide those things for under $1000.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  60. Just found your Blog and its unbelievable awesome. Very useful for someone like me (new to long range shooting).
    I’ve been on a seemingly never ending journey to find my scope. I’ve tried a couple:
    IOR Recon: Overall I liked it but it had this Brownish/Golden thin ring bordering the circumference of the Reticle and when I wasn’t exactly on it gave off a brownish tint. Not sure if you experienced the same thing and if so do you know why.
    US Optics LR 17 Genii 3.2×17: Eye relief was really tough.
    Nightforce: The one I tried was awesome but it was in the 2nd focal plane.
    My real question is as follows…
    It seems that scopes in the first focal plane have less eye relief and smaller exit pupil then their same counter parts in the first focal plane.
    Does that seem accurate and if so why?
    I want a scope that that I could easily get out to 1000 yards, have enough flexibility for something also across the street but most importantly one that has really forgiving eye relief. Something that I can sit on target for a while without tiring out but also that I can acquire super quick without having to find that perfect spot to be on….
    Does any of this make sense?
    Thanks for any support you can offer!

    • Hey, Ari! Glad you found the content helpful. My goal is to help people just like you that are new to long-range shooting, so I’m glad it worked!

      To your question, I haven’t noticed any correlation between eye relief, exit pupil, and focal plane.

      A scope with forgiving eye relief is certainly comfortable to use. And yeah … everyone wants a scope that is infinitely flexible like you described (“could easily get out to 1000 yards, have enough flexibility for something also across the street”) … but really forgiving eye relief and extreme flexibility comes at a cost. I know the exact scope that meets the criteria you laid out: the Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56. It is the most comfortable scope I’ve ever been behind, in terms of “eye box” (i.e. how much you can move your eye behind the scope forwards and rearwards, side to side, and up and down and still maintain a full field of view). It also has a crazy 7.4x zoom ratio, meaning it has a huge range of magnification. 3.5x would be low enough you could quickly find something “across the street” … and 26x on the high end is enough zoom to comfortably push well beyond 1000 yards.

      The problem is … if you’re not willing to compromise on those things, you have to pay for it. The Hensoldt scope is $7,000. Ouch! Hopefully you’re wealthy and that’s not a problem. It is an amazing scope. If I could pick one of these scopes to keep for free, it might be the Hensoldt. It’s just a really, really good piece of equipment. It is sooo comfortable to use. But if $7k is out of your budget, you’ll have to make some compromises.

      Hope this helps!
      Cal

      • Thanks Cal for the advice….I had a sinking feeling you were going to recommend the Hensoldt. Dude….my wife would beat the living daylights out of me if that showed up on the CC report.
        I ordered the S&B 5x25x56
        If it ends up not being good enough then the problem is not the scope…:)

      • I agree, Ari. That’s the scope that tops my rifle. It’s ridiculously good. It’s a bittersweet moment when you get to the point that you can no longer blame the gear for a missed shot … just the nut behind the rifle! I bet you love it.

        Thanks,
        Cal

  61. Cal –

    I have finally finished reading the entire test – start to finish, comments and all. First I must say thank you! Absolutely outstanding work on these tests. I honestly can say I’ve never seen a firearm product review this detailed – ever! The only place for any product review I know that comes close is the Wirecutter but they are extremely subjective where as yours are very objective and it leaves the reader the ability to adjust what they may believe to be the most important features and reevaluate the data.

    By blending these reviews with the poll information you receive from annual PRS competitors it really narrows down the research on a truly excellent long-range optic. After reading all the reviews and the PRS reports I really wish you were able to test the Vortex Razor Gen II 4.5-27. For me this will likely be the best mix of features and price to get me where I want to be. Now to convince the wife!

    • Hey, thanks for the kind words. I did spend a lot of time on this project, so it’s good to know you found it so helpful. I agree that when you combine this with other resources like the What The Pros use posts … you can make an informed decision. I may test another batch of scopes in 2016, and if I do the Vortex Razor HD Gen II 4.5-27×56 will certainly be one of them. It seems like a great scope, but I’d love to see the hard data on it to see how it really stacks up.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  62. Just wanted to share my thanks and appreciation for your tireless effort to provide such great information. This test was certainly thorough and in-depth, particularly when combining it with the follow-up articles; part 1 , 2, etc. I am currently researching what optic to place on a replacement sniper rifle for our SWAT Team who currently use Nightforce. I never blindly go with the same brand/model, ensuring the company/s continues to provide the quality and standards required for our purpose.

    I recall reading your comment in an article somewhere which essentially said, don’t just take my word for it, do your own research! That’s what we’re doing and what you’ve done certainly helps!

    Westminster Police Department
    S.W.A.T Team – Rifle

    • Wow, Trevor. It’s an honor to help you guys out. Thanks for serving your community. I appreciate you taking a moment to give me some encouragement. It was a huge project, but knowing it is helping guys like you really goes a long way!

      Thanks,
      Cal

  63. Thanks so much Cal for a great study. The value analysis is exceptionally helpful as a byproduct of all your test results. I do have a question for you though. Do you think that all scopes are equally accurate? When you consider the scope’s ability to:
    1. Actually have the point of aim on the target align with where the reticle presents it visually,
    2. Accommodate slight movement of the eye up/down and left/right behind the ocular lens without shifting the visual impact image,
    3. Bending light waves correctly so what we see is what we get in terms of point of impact,
    4. Accommodating mirage and heat waves from various sources (if that is possible),
    5. Having a clear enough image and a fine enough reticle to visualize the center of the reticle crisply in the middle of a 2″ or 3″ target at 1000 yards.

    It seems to me that all scopes aren’t the same in these “accuracy” respects. Some scopes are more accurate than others and therefore tend to shoot tighter groups. It seems the only way to determine this without optical lab instruments would be to shoot a good sample of groups from the same rifle/load/conditions to see which scope shoots the tightest group on average and measure group size statistics. I realize that several other variables must be controlled and that these tests depend a lot on the shooter but I have seen noticeable differences in accuracy of scopes. I’ve seen my 1000 yard five shot group size double on average just moving from one scope to another. Sometimes it is related to not being able to see the exact aiming point on the target well enough because of clarity, with others it may be from such a wide reticle that I can’t really control the point of aim as well. With others, internal parallax seems to be getting me as I make slight changes to cheek weld on the stock. Some scopes don’t mind that and others blow up.

    Do you think it would be technically feasible for a person to attempt a side-by-side 500 yard or 1000 yard accuracy test? If that were possible, it could be the most important data attribute you have for most shooting; especially BR shooting and real hunting. If the scope doesn’t shoot straight consistently (i.e. “tight groups”), it really doesn’t make any difference if it has a zero stop or a special reticle, or whether it tracks well. These would be secondary attributes with accuracy being why we buy the scope and why we pay more. One might have to actually test accuracy at shorter ranges to have better control of the variables. What do you think? Do you think some scopes are designed to be more accurate (e.g. the March) and that is why we see them in large number on the BR circuit? E.g. my Leupold VX3 6.5-20 has shot sub .1 MOA groups at 100 yards and three inch five shot groups at 1000 yards and I’d be curious to know what added value these scopes provide. My guess is good scopes show up on the BR line because they are accurate. I’m surprised that accuracy wasn’t listed as an important data point by your advisors.

    Also, just a comment about first focal plane. The only benefit I see is in instantly ranging on whatever magnification is currently set. I had a Vortex FFP scope and the reticle covered my entire 2″ target at 1000 yards so I couldn’t control my exact point of aim. It also completely covers a prairie dog at that range so you can’t tell if you are aiming at him or not. The second focal plane works better for me since I can always quickly turn to 12x or 24x for ranging or use a range finder. I like the crisp fine reticle in SFP. Why is everyone using FFP?

    • Mike, those are great questions. You are obviously a pretty detailed guy, and I can appreciate that. The test you suggested would be difficult to pull off because of the uncertainties related to the shooter. If you stretch it out to 500 or 1000 yards, you’d also be introducing environmental uncertainties as well. With those two things, any difference would likely be “in the noise.” But you could do targets at 100 yards that are scaled to simulate those further distances, and mitigate some of the environmentals. You might be able to use a rail gun to mitigate human error. I’m about to purchase a SCATT training system, which will pinpoint exactly where the rifle was aimed when the trigger broke. I’m hoping that system would help me get to a finer level of detail when testing precision, similar to what you could achieve with a rail gun. You might be able to use a tool like that to evaluate this as well. In the end, you’d have to fire a ton of rounds to get a large enough sample size to draw any conclusions. I’d want at least ten 5 shot groups with each scope, and more would be better. It would be an undertaking, but it might produce some interesting results.

      Most people prefer FFP scopes for long range so that they can hold for wind or for wind and elevation, and do that at any magnification. I’m assuming from your comments that you dial for wind. That’s not what most long-range shooters do, especially when engaging multiple targets. The wind hold can change quickly, and will vary by distance … so I see most guys dialing for elevation and holding for wind. If you’re using a SFP scope, you must be at specific zoom points on the scope for the hold-offs to be valid. I prefer to set my magnification based on what field of view I need, which likely isn’t exactly at full magnification or 1/2 magnification. The trick is to get a fine reticle when you go FFP. Then if you are zoomed out to a low power, you can use illumination to see the reticle. It works pretty well. I’ve spent a lot of time using both systems, and I strongly prefer a FFP scope.

      Hope that makes sense.

      Thanks,
      Cal

  64. Great write up. This is all new to me, and I sincerely appreciate what you’ve done. It’s made order from chaos.

    My question, how much does all this really matter? From top to bottom, the mechanical accuracy range: what are we talking about in real life bullet hitting paper difference? I just took my first 750 yard shot last week, and put lead (perhaps copper?) on 6″ steel (1 shot 1 kill). Would any of these scopes have rendered that less likely? Or are we talking fractions of an inch at that distance?

    I’m looking to buy an LMT LM8MWS or a GA Precision GAP-10 soon and I’m looking to adorn it with a quality scope that will allow me to bring it out 750-1,000 yards. Would any of these scopes enable that pursuit, or should I start tucking away my pennies (quarters even) for the Nightforce F1/Vortex Razor HD Gen II?

    I fully realize these guns aren’t the typical long range queens that normally come with bolts requiring manual cycling, but they’re both comfortably sub-MOA capable. The GAP-10 especially. The infantryman inside me is concerned with the 12 lb weight of the GAP-10 though… So I don’t know. I’ve digressed. So, what scope say ye?

    • Great question. I actually think any of these would be very capable of getting rounds on target. I personally bought the #1 scope, but I’m not under any illusion that it helps me hit more targets. I enjoy shooting more when I’m using it, and that is about it. I was willing to pay more money for that, and that’s just the truth of it. Now I put thousands of rounds down-range every year, which isn’t the situation most people are in. But for me, I saw it as an investment. I paid $3500 for the scope, and they’re now selling for closer to $4000. I bet I could sell it pretty easily for at least $2500 if I decided to go another route, because those scopes really hold their value well if you take care of them. But I definitely don’t think spending $4k on a scope will help you hit any more targets than one of the $1500 models would. It at least wouldn’t be statistically significant even if there was a difference. It’s mostly about convenience, ergonomics, personal preference, and enjoyment. The glass is AWESOME on my Schmidt and Bender, but the Bushnell is at least 70% of the way there … but it costs 25% of the price. So clearly there is diminishing returns, and seeing a target in ultra-sharp HD doesn’t really help me place the shot any better. The truth is I enjoy it and had the discretionary income to afford it. That’s some honesty for you! 😉 It’s a want, not a need.

      Personally, I think the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 is an outstanding scope that is very capable. If you’re looking for the best value … that’s it. If you want better glass or better ergonomics … then save up. But it has all the must-have features. Some of the top shooters in the PRS run that Bushnell scope, and they consistently smoke guys like me with most expensive glass. Both the Nightforce ATACR F1 and the Vortex Razor HD Gen II are outstanding scopes … but I’m not sure many (if any) would claim they’d help you get more rounds on target than the Bushnell Elite Tactical. Many prefer those other two of the Bushnell, but it’s a want, not a need.

      Thanks,
      Cal

      • Thank you for taking the time for the well thought out response. As you might’ve ascertained, I’m new to long range precision shooting, but not new to shooting. I’ve spent 10 years of my life throwing 62 gr at 300m targets.

        I’m a little concerned about the ATACR F1 not having a reticle that has an illuminated “Christmas Tree” option. I like the thought of quickly determining range, knowing my MOA drop and windage, and holding it without any dialing. Now having a total of one experience shooting more than 600 m, I don’t know if this is dreamy eyed fantasy land, or if this is something that is realistic. In your much more experienced opinion, is that a deal breaker? I’m not super stoked about 4 lbs of weight atop my rifle, and I think that might be a Vortex killer. I haven’t decided.

        I do have the discretionary income to purchase wants and not just needs. That being said, I don’t have the discretionary income to not care what my wants cost. So it’s a balancing act. I could spring the $4k for your scope, but only if I was certain I’d see a benefit. And since there are many scopes with similar optical performance in your tests, and if the mechanical accuracy of all the scopes are well within the limits of my rifle, I’m not sure that I can justify that. Perhaps you’d part with yours for $2,500?

        I’ve now talked myself into a complete circle. I’m not sure I’d be happy with fuzzy images, or wondering if my miss was due to mechanical inaccuracy vs me just not doing my job. If I’m going to spend $1,500 I would rather spend $2,500 and be certain I’ll be happy. It’s like a $1,000 insurance program.

      • Now those are some great questions, Jason. If you asked 100 guys, you might get 100 different answers … so I certainly don’t want to overstate my opinion here. One of the things a reader suggested that I ask the top PRS shooters if we do a survey again this year is of the guys who have hold-off reticles, what percent of the time to they actually hold-off compared to dialing. Just because you have the hold-off reticle doesn’t mean you have to hold-off, it just means you have a tool that allows you to do that in a precise way if necessary. To me, that’s just added flexibility … and it’s why I’m about to trade in my Schmidt & Bender 5-25×56 with a P4L Fine reticle for the same model scope with a different reticle (like the Horus TRMR3 I saw they released at SHOT). I still plan to dial for elevation if given enough time, but if I don’t have time … I have a reticle that allows me to hold-off. So it’s not “either/or,” it’s “both/and.”

        And just to be clear, when it came to image quality … there weren’t several scopes that performed the same in this test. The Schmidt & Bender and Zeiss scopes were clearly head-and-shoulders above the other scopes I tested. Those two scopes had a “Combined Optical Clarity Score” of 97 and 99, respectively. The only other scope in the 90’s was the Hensoldt at 91, and all the rest were below 90. So that is a 10% difference, even among these premiere scopes. That may not sound like much, but it was noticeable. Now is it worth it is another question all together, but those two scopes were a cut above the rest … at least with the limited sample size I had to work with. It’s not that the rest were terribly fuzzy, although I personally wouldn’t be happy with a few of them. All of them were adequate for making a shot, but just not a pleasure to be behind.

        And I’m with you on your thought process. I tend to go down that same path, eventually. There is a bittersweet moment that is coming though, which a lot of guys don’t see until they get there. Once you have a good rifle and good scope … there is only one reason you missed that shot, and it’s the nut behind the gun! That’s likely the truth a lot of the time, but when you have a really capable setup, you just can’t deny it. It leaves you nowhere to go! Like I said, it’s a bittersweet moment. I agree it is better to be there rather than wondering if it is your equipment. At least you know what to work on to improve it.

        I don’t plan to sell my S&B until I get the new one in-hand, and even then I might hang on to it for a moment just in case I don’t end up likely the TRMR3. But I will sell it at some point. The P4L Fine doesn’t have any holds closer than 1 mil on the windage axis, and that drives me crazy. Lots of times you are holding 0.3, 0.6, or 0.8 mils … and with that reticle, you’re just guessing where those spots are. It could be the most critical marks on the whole reticle, and it’s just a straight line with no hash marks on the P4L Fine. At this point it makes me frustrated every time I look through that scope, because it is just a bad design for long-range work. I shot in West Texas where the winds are constantly changing, so I strongly prefer to dial for elevation but hold for wind (when time allows) … and that reticle just isn’t optimal for that. Like I said, I’m likely going with a Horus reticle. I plan to try the TRMR3, and maybe a H59. Both of those have 0.2 mil has marks on the windage axis, which is ideal.

        Hope this helps, buddy! Sorry if I just cost you another $1000. I’ve never regretted investing in high-quality gear. It’s buying something twice that is painful, because you tried to cut corners the first time. You know the old saying, “Buy once, cry once.” I think Rolls Royce says it this way: “The quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten.”

        Thanks,
        Cal

      • Thanks again. Your insight is invaluable.

        On a side note: please let me know when you’re ready to sell your S&B.

        Jason

  65. I just found this test and wow, what an source of information for us optic-nerds! Thank you for that.

    I’ve been looking to get myself a new scope to upgrade my Razor HD 5-20×50, and my eyes has been on the Kahles k624i. Now I found the Leupold Mark 6 3-18×44 in your test, and I must say that it’s size would fit me better. But I have some concerns about the eyebox, since it for me has been a real problem on the Razor.

    Wich scope of the Kahles and the Leupold would you say has the best eyebox? Maybe both of them are significantly better then the Razor?

    Best Regards,

    Jonas

    • Jonas, it’s hard to objectively quantify how comfortable the eyebox is on these scopes. In fact, I couldn’t find a way to do it … which is why I didn’t touch that subject in this field test. At this point, it’s been too long for me to remember. I’d hate to guess and steer you in the wrong direction. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

      Thanks,
      Cal