In a few weeks, I’m starting a large field test for popular tactical scopes in the $1,500+ price range (plan to test $500-1,500 scopes later this year). Like my rangefinder field test, I plan to have a very objective, data-driven approach using a series of empirical tests that focus on:
- Optical Quality (resolution/clarity, contrast, brightness, etc)
- Mechanical Precision & Repeatability (tracking, return to zero, internal adjustments, etc)
But before I start testing, I thought it’d be fun to see what the general opinion of the shooting community was on these scopes. The 17 scopes I’m planning to test are listed below, and there are 2 questions:
- Overall Performance: Which scope will perform the best overall in the field tests, regardless of price?
- Value: Which scope will provide great performance in the field test (i.e. end up in the top 50%) for the lowest price?
Update: Voting is closed, but the results of the votes from the community are shown in the charts below.
This race wasn’t even close, with the Schmidt and Bender PMII 5-25×56 easily taking 1st place … pretty much uncontested. Although that scope is based on a design that is over a decade old at this point, it is still considered the king among scopes and few believe there is a challenger out there that could dethrone it. Not even the scopes that cost twice as much, like the new Hensoldt ZF 3.5-26×56 or the new Schmidt and Bender PMII 3-27×56 High Power!
This race was a little closer, with the Bushnell Elite Tactical 3.5-21×50 seen as the highest value by the shooting community, and the Vortex Razor HD 5-20×50 right on its heels.
I love these polls!
How about the “cost no object” Tangent Theta – 5-25×56 P-Series?
So glad you mentioned it. I’m actually very excited about that scope. I originally intended to include Premier scopes in this test, but after some research saw they’d been bought out by Tangent Theta. So I contacted Andrew Webber, president of Tangent Theta, and had a great conversation with him. While he did say they weren’t planning to continue to make the Premier line of scopes, they’d already been working on a new scope that was designed from the ground up. When the opportunity came up to buy Premier they jumped on it mainly to gain the intellectual property and learn from all the lessons Premier experienced over the years (and they also kept some of their brightest engineers on staff). Andrew said he’d love to send me one to test, but they just have a few finishing touches that they’re working on. He thought he could get me one within a couple months, and I plan to run all the same benchmark tests on it that I will be doing on this group. I’m trying really hard to make tests that are completely repeatable, so that I can run them on other scopes later and people can compare those to this original set.
From what Andrew has told me, it does sound VERY interesting and I can’t wait to get my hands on one.
Great suggestion. If you can think of any others, please pass them along. Thanks!
SWFA 5-20HD, sub $1500 scope that is as good or better than a few of the scopes you have listed. When you go above the $2500 mark then your into a whole different tier of scope.
Yes sir, great suggestion! I certainly hope to include the SSHD scope (or maybe a couple models of that scope) in the 2nd round of this field test, which will focus on scopes $500-1500. I’ve seen a lot of people recommend that scope, so I’m excited to get my hands on one.
I’m trying my best to make all the tests controlled and repeatable, so that you’d be able to easily compare results from the 2nd round to those in this 1st round. I’ve purchased light meters, built scope vises, and all kinds of things to help with that. I’ve also read a pile of articles on how they test resolution and contrast in camera lens, and believe I’ll be able to apply some of those well established techniques to testing scope clarity.
And I totally get what you’re saying about the $2500 mark, but honestly I just had to draw the line somewhere. There really is no magic number. Ultimately, I thought it might be more balanced if I split it $500-1500 and $1500+. I’m hoping to include no more than 20 scopes in each field test so I can be really thorough. I already think testing 20 scopes will take me 2 months to just gather all the data, and another month to analyze the data and create meaningful charts out of it (like my rangefinder field test).
Thanks again for the suggestion. I honestly think narrowing the $500-1500 scopes down to the 20 with the most potential will be extremely difficult. So I appreciate any tips you guys could give me.
Cal, I was excited to see the voters results so far. Im even more excited to see how the results stand up to the popular vote. Keep up the good work.
I’d be interested to see if this could double as a poll of the scopes the voters own or wish to own, as well. There aren’t too many folks out there that don’t defend their own choices with surveys like this.
You’re probably correct, but voting with your pocketbook is a pretty good way to see what people really believe.
Ultimately, I’m interested in what the data says … not public opinion. I just thought it would be interesting to see how people’s views line up with the results from the field tests. So I wanted to collect people’s impressions before I started publishing the results. I also wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing a scope that should obviously be included in this class (i.e. $1500 and up). There have been several good scopes recommended for the $500-1500 range, which will be the 2nd round of field tests I’m planning to run in the fall. And there were a couple mentioned that were in the $1500 price range, but none that people thought would be in the same class as the others listed here.
Really the only scope suggested that I would like to add is the Valdada IOR 4-28×50. I’m already including the Valdada 3-18×42 scope, but this other scope seems to be completely different. In fact, it has a 40mm tube … which seems ridiculous. Honestly, it might just be gimmicky and not a real contendor, but I’ve tried to reach out to Valdada to see if they’d like to include that one. I haven’t heard anything back from them yet, so it probably isn’t likely at this point.
Is there any push to compare a Horus? It is just barely below your dollars, but ought to be a worthy comparison.
Great suggestion. I run the field test again in the fall for scopes $500-1500, so I’ll add it to that list. I honestly hadn’t thought about them, so thanks for the feedback. They’d be a great one to include.
Would think the NF 3.5-15x50mmF1 LV.5 Zero Stop would have been interesting also.
Yeah, I definitely considered that one … but 3 Nightforce scopes already seems a little heavy. I was trying to limit it to 2 per brand, but the 3 Nightforce designs are very different optical systems. Including the newer designs like the BEAST & ATACR seemed more appropriate. I already had the NXS 5.5-22, and that is a really popular model to have as a benchmark that most shooters are familiar with. I was also looking for scopes with at least 18x magnification as well, to ensure I was comparing fairly similar models.
I have the F1 and Iove it. Looking to step up to the BEAST, so your testing will be a great read. So glad your doing this on other scopes too. Keep up the good work.
Schmidt & Bender PMII 3-27×56
is the best
It’s the one I voted for. Based on personal experience with the Schmidt & Bender PMII 5-25×56 … I figured the newer design had to be a safe bet.
I would love to see a review and comparison of the new Huskemaw 5-30×56 @ $2800
Sorry David, a little late to the party. I’ve already finished the tests and have started publishing results. If I decide to do this again in the future, I’ll consider including a Huskemaw. Thanks for the input.
Did you ever get your hands on a Tangent Theta? Im back and forth on one
I played with one for a second at their SHOT Show booth. Although you can’t tell a lot inside, I was impressed. I’d love to try one out at some point. Its the scope I’m betting has the best shot of knocking the Schmidt & Bender 5-25×56 off its thrown … although many have tried and failed to do that over the past decade. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.
I’ve got a Hensoldt 3.5-26×56 and it’s amazing. I tried the 3-27 S&B and at the time (when it was first out) I actually preferred it’s brother the 5-25. I had them side by side and chose to keep the 5-25. Got a Tangent Theta inbound. Very curious to check it out. So before seeing the Tangent Theta I would say that the SB 5-25 is awesome for the price. But if money is no object, the Hensoldt 3.5-26 has the best glass and the turrets are amazing. And it’s the easiest to get behind for long periods. It’s heavy and very expensive though.
Wow, that’s some awesome glass you’ve owned. I also loved the Hensoldt. It had a very comfortable eye box. I also strongly preferred the S&B 5-25 over the 3-27. And I see a lot of potential in the Tangent Theta 5-25. I wish I’d been able to include it in the big scope test I did, but they didn’t have any ready at the time. But those guys over there know what they’re doing. I had a ton of conversations with them, and they’re sharp guys. So I bet the product is legit. I’d love to hear what you think about them, since you obviously have experience with a lot of other high-end optics.
Thanks for the input!